Danish wood toys

There is a long history in Denmark of making toys for children in wood and with them well-established traditions. One is to buy a small wooden train, usually painted in strong primary colours, with a single carriage carrying a single large candle, to mark the first birthday of a child. Each year following, another carriage and candle are added, and the growing train becomes the centre of the birthday party table. Last year I met a teenager who had clocked up 18 carriages and was clearly intent in carrying on the tradition until at least her 21st birthday.

Presumably, anyone thinking about Danish toys, thinks immediately of the plastic building bricks from Lego but in fact Lego was founded by a carpenter from Billund in Denmark, Ole Kirke Christiansen, who started to produce wooden toys in 1932. Two years later his company became known as Lego but did not start to produce plastic toys until 1947. The design of the first plastic bricks were based on traditional children’s building blocks and the first interlocking plastic blocks were produced in 1958.

Several architects designed toys for children and some of these are still made by the Danish company ArchitectMade. Hans Bølling, born in 1931, trained as an architect at the Royal Danish Academy of Art and his group of ducks was designed in the early 1950s.

Kristian Solmer Vedel, who was born in 1923 and died in 2003, was apprenticed as a cabinetmaker and then studied in the Department of Furniture at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts and graduated from the Furniture Department of the School of Arts Crafts and Design in Copenhagen. His birds, made in two sizes, were designed in 1959. The heads are made as separate pieces so they can be set at any angle and the body can be set either way up to give remarkably varied arrangements, for such simple shapes, so the birds can look as if they are sleeping or looking up attentively or putting their heads on one side to listen.