Yalvaç Ural

Toys play an important part in children’s lives. No child can grow up without toys, because all children are experts at creating toys for themselves from anything to hand, even if they have no purpose-made toys. A stick serves as a horse, a reed or willow twig as a whistle, branches as catapults and bows and arrows, or round stones as marbles. Wire and pieces of wood can be used to make cars and bicycles, or newspaper to make a football. An old button and string can be used to make a spinning toy, matchsticks to make a toy house, mud to shape a bird, bones to play knucklebones or walnut shells to make a sailing boat. These and many other materials can be used to manufacture ingenious toys of all kinds. It is as if children were born with the skill and imagination to produce these things. We are insufficiently aware of how privileged our children are today in comparison to the past, and it is hard to say whether they are luckier. Today’s children have none of the wooden or tin toys of the past. In particular tin toys are now regarded as unsafe, as demonstrated by the words “This is not a child’s toy” marked in large lettering on on the boxes of tin toys produced today for collectors! Today’s children, meanwhile, play with toys produced by digital technology. Talking dolls and parrots that imitate their owners no longer arouse our interest. Electronic games, playstations, nintendo games, gameboys and hundreds of cartridge games and strategy games are all virtual toys. These “play, break, discard” games are made to throw away when they break down, and are impossible to repair even if you wished to. Children cannot repair them or even open them to look inside. That is why our waste bins are full of them and there are sackfuls on junk stalls. Despite all their sophistication, these games do nothing for creativity, conceal their operating system, teach nothing, and are produced merely as part of our consumer culture to play with and replace with a new one as soon as they stop working. They are games whose sole function is to entertain and which encourage children to play on their own, tending to make them lonely and friendless. Tin toys which began with money boxes in the 1800s and developed to a peak of creativity in the 1950s have a special quality that distinguishes them from all other toys. Tin toys are a type of automata, which incorporate moving mechanisms. They have a scientific aspect which teaches children about mechanics; how a spring, steel wires and cogwheels can make things move. Moreover, their winding system, the way they move and the links between these that combine to create sound and movement are educational. When a tin toy broke down, its child owner could first work out why and then repair it, learning how to play with it so that it did not break again. In this way children learned to take toys apart and put them together again, and in the process of playing and having fun, they learned to take care of their possessions. The delightful lithograph printing tin toys has meant that they have survived to the present day without losing any of their value. The fact that today we come across them in junk shops and antique shops in a good state of preservation, as if they had never been played with, and the high prices they fetch, are a sign of how much their original owners loved and cherished them. Every dent, scratch and missing part seems to conceal a remembered moment in the life of a child. Yalvaç’s love of tin toys began in 1951 when his father brought home a tin police car and a tin elephant called Jumbo. His parents were civil servants and his childhood years were spent moving from city to city, town to town and sometimes to villages, wherever his mother and father were posted. Those tin toys were packed up with the rest of the household possessions and moved to no less than ten different houses during that time. For sixty years Yalvaç kept those toys in the same small suitcase that, together with his books, he took with him from place to place, gradually gathering more over time, as he continues to do today. The Yalvaç Ural Tin Toy Exhibition will from now on form a permanent exhibition at the Rahmi M. Koç Museum, while Ural himself will take an active part in school activities at the museum, teaching children aboutthe mechanical tin automata toys and telling them what skills and knowledge children of the past acquired from them. Using these toys as examples, he will demonstrate to children and other visitors how the system of key, spring and cogwheels operates. Ural says that being able to repair a toy not only makes it usable again, but teaches children the skills to create their own new toys. In his company children will be able to touch examples of these toys and play with them. There will be no limit on the number of toys in this collection, which will certainly expand in both quantity and diversity as other toy lovers add their donations to Ural’s original collection. Indeed, the exhibition already contains examples of new donations, which are labelled with the names and childhood photographs of the donors. The toys in this collection consist not only of toys that Yalvaç owned as a child, but others that once belonged to his friends or were presented to him later in life, and were played with by Turkish children. Still others were purchased from junk shops, flea markets, antique shops or collectors. Some are Turkish made and others of foreign manufacture. This outstanding collection accumulated over sixty years is the result of meticulous, patient research and discriminating selection. And do you know why Yalvaç went to this trouble? So that we could be reminded of our own childhood toys and pursue our own lost memories. Of course some have been purchased from abroad, but the proportion of these is not more than ten percent of the total. What concerns us particularly are those used by children in this country, most of which were originally purchased from the Japanese shop or Bonmarşe in Beyoğlu, from other toy shops or from local markets. In this exhibition Yalvaç wishes to show children how mechanical toys in particular relate to our world. He also wants to examine the truths that lie behind the fact that scientific scholars of past centuries like Hezarfen Çelebi and Lagari Hasan, whom we know through the writings of Evliya Çelebi, have never been the subject of serious research, but instead been regarded as mythical heroes. He says that he also wants to find out why for years our toy manufacturers imitated German and Japanese tin toys, yet produced only poor quality copies that were unsafe for children; why they have never progressed further and never produced anything original. This is a subject he wants to open to debate. Above all he wishes to acquaint children with the 12th century Turkish automata designer İsmail Rezzaz, who is world famous yet almost unknown in his homeland. İsmail Rezzaz (1136-1206) was born in Cizre and lived in Diyarbakır during the Artukid period, when he served as the sultan’s chief engineer. Eight hundred years ago he designed and built sophisticated automata and clocks. Today there are two copies of his book about automata, consisting of technical drawings and detailed descriptions; one in Ayasofya Mosque Library and the other in the Ahmet III Library at Topkapı Palace. Apart from a few academicians, historians and intellectuals no one here knows about this scholar, although pages from his books are exhibited in leading science museums around the world. Prof. Dr. Toygar Akman says that even the name of this Egyptian Memluk is wrongly written. Not one of the 52 automata that he illustrates and explains in his book has ever been constructed. Only an eight metre high reproduction of Rezzaz’s elephant water clock has been erected in a shopping centre in Dubai. In our tin toy exhibition there is a small statue replicating one of the original drawings. Yet his name should be at the forefront of our school textbooks and encyclopaedias of inventions and discoveries. His automata should be available as cardboard models like those published in book form by the British publisher Tarquin, to acquaint children in Turkey and around the world with his inventions. Countries that seventy years ago produced wind-up tin toys and brought up their children with these toys are each today pioneers and giants in the world automotive sector. Behind those achievements lie children who were brought up with automata, who dismantled their own toys and put them together again and so learned how the mechanics of their operatation. Those children grew up into skilled people able to repair anything that broke down in the house from a radio and electrical equipment to taps. In 1995 we published a modern Turkish translation by Sevim Tekeli, Melek Dosay and Yavuz Unat of İsmail Rezzaz’s book of automata, before another translation was published by the Turkish History Association in 2002. Today automata lie behind the technological achievements of the developed countries. We cannot ignore the fact that two countries –Germany and Japan– owe their prominent role as giants of the automotive industry to the fact that in the recent past they manufactured tens of thousands of tin toys and brought up their children to play with them. This exhibition of these toys aims to tell us that this is no coincidence.