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Our Favourite Retro Toys

The toys from our childhood will always hold a special place in our memory, no matter when we were born. Here's a list of our all-time favourites


First of all, what are "retro" toys? It's definition became a bit of a debate and every generation seemed to have a slightly different take. The confusion seemed to be whether something was retro because it was old, or because it had stood the test of time. Apparently we were all right, "retro" is used to describe a style or item that imitates a trend from 15-20 years previous.

Therefore, retro changes from generation to generation and as each item is reinvented, it opens the door to being classed as retro again and again.

In looking at these items, we were intrigued to find out just how long some of these toys had really been around and where they originated.

The Rubik's Cube

The Rubik's Cube gets its name from the inventor, Erno Rubik, who taught architecture at a Hungarian University. When he created it in 1974, to teach spatial relationships to his class, he had no idea how popular it would become.

They first came to markets as 'Magic Cubes', and had a long and difficult journey before they became popular. Due to the Communist regime, importing and exporting were near impossible, so the Magic Cubes made their debut at international mathematics conferences and the Nuremburg Toy Fair 5 years after its creation. Here it was spotted by Tom Kremer and, with his support, the Rubik's Cube was reborn.

Do you own one of the 350 million Rubik's cubes in existence?

The Space Hopper

Also known as the Hoppity Hop, the Hop Ball and the Kangaroo Hooper, this retro toy was initially created by Cosani Aquilino and LEDRAPLASTIC. They started making gymnastic balls in the 60s, and Aquilino invented the 'PON PON' with a rigid handle for the grip.

The design was refined during the 80s to include a vinyl handle, and the 'Hop' was born. The product has advanced over the years and many variations exist today, including those shaped as cows or dragons.

The Slinky

The slinky was invented by accident in 1943 by Richard James. As a mechanical engineer, he was working on springs that would help keep items on shelves aboard large sea faring ships, when he clumsily knocked the springs off a shelf. He watched in amazement as they 'walked' rather than fell.

He and his wife Betty - who chose the name - borrowed $500 and James designed a machine to coil 80-feet of wire into a two-inch spiral. Sales were slow till 1945 when Gimbels Department Store in Philadelphia sold 400 Slinkys within minutes after doing a demonstration.

Whether you owned a metal Slinky or a multicoloured, plastic one, you're one of 250 million Slinky owners worldwide.

The Yoyo

It seems there is conflicting information on the Yoyo as it has been linked to China, Greece, Egypt, the Philippines and India. From simple discs made of clay, this toy has advanced, been redesigned, and reengineered over and over for optimal performance.

These toys didn't just provide entertainment; they were offered to the gods in Greece when children came of age, used to practice hunting techniques in the Philippines and were even taken by the French aristocracy when they fled Paris in the 1780s earning it the nickname Coblenz, the area of the city many fled to.

Also called Emigrettes (which means "to leave the country"), they were used to release tension and stress - as highlighted in the 1792 play 'The Marriage of Figaro'. Even Napoleon and his troops were known to use yoyo's as a form of relaxation before entering battle.

In 1932 a patent was granted for the term yoyo and by 1946 the Duncan company was producing 3600 per minute, and in 1962 the founder, Donald Duncan, sold 45 million. In 1965 Duncan lost the patent as it was decided the word was now synonymous with the toy - however yoyo enthusiasts celebrate National Yoyo day in his honour every June 6th.

So whether your "walking the dog" or "brain-scrambling", you're holding a little piece of history.

The Spinning Top

Based on the same shape as an acorn, it's thought that the first spinning top was likely discovered by accident by a small child exploring nature. And it's therefore likely to have many origins being discovered in many places around the world.

Spinning tops began to get mentioned in stories in the 1800s and advancements were made when lathes were used over hand carving to make the perfect spinning top.

The spinning top goes by many different names: "tsa lin" in China, "koma asobi" in Japan, "dreidel" in the Jewish Hanukkah game, and many more. Shakespeare even referred to it in his plays as a village exercise. You may have had one of many variations as a child, from the plunger top to the whipping top, but even without its fancy bells and whistles, this is a game that has lasted more generations than we can count!


Whether you built the tallest tower or the most complicated machinery, most children will play with Lego at some point in their lives. And from what we've gathered - adults love any excuse to get back to it!

Lego came to us from Denmark and gets its name from the words "leg godt" meaning "play well". Founded in 1932 it has been passed on from generation to generation for over 80 years.

It has recently been the subject of controversy when a "girl-friendly" version was released in pinks and purples - deviating from its strong primary colours. I don't know about your families, but the colour of the brick didn't stop any of our children from creating structure after structure. Got an hour to kill? See who can build the tallest freestanding structure.


Marbles are another game that was likely played before it was invented. With it's simple components, it probably derived from stones and pebbles, and may have been the pass time of many ancient civilisations.

They are now made from different substances including stone, clay, marble, porcelain, glass and steel. They have developed over the years to become more durable, less expensive and more beautiful.

There are no limits to the number of games you can play or make up, or if you're more interested in aesthetics, they're quite the collectibles.

Ball in a cup

Dating back to the 17th century in India, Spain, France and Italy, this toy was turned into a work of art as it was made from different mediums such as ivory and wood. As one of the playthings of the likes of Queen Victoria, the current game came from France to England and was originally called Bilbocquet.

They were first advertised for sale in 1767 in America and were used to improve hand eye coordination. Here's a helpful hint, if you're ever playing ball and cup, don't ever try to use the full length of string when tossing the ball, this will make it almost impossible to have it land in the cup!

The Hoola-Hoop

History is vague on the Hoola-Hoop as well. Made from willow, rattan, grapevines and stiff grasses, it dates back to the Egyptians and ancient Greeks. They became popular in the UK in the 14th century when medical records attributed back and hip injuries to "hooping".

A sailor who had been to Hawaii and seen Hula dancing decided the similarity was too much to ignore and the name 'Hoola' was added to the hooping craze.

Hoola-hooping has come and gone and come back again. Regardless of whether they are "cool" or not, children love them.

As popular as Hoola-hooping was, we discovered that not everyone though it was the next big thing. Japan and Indonesia banned the public use of hoops because it was culturally unacceptable to shake your hips in public - it was considered indecent!

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