An Old Mary Meyer Musical Giraffe from the late 1950′s
My name is Walter Meyer. Mary Meyer was my Mother and I spent from 1955 to 2010 working in the Mary Meyer family business. In high school I cut out toys and felt parts for stuffed toys and many other jobs at Mary Meyer. I also swept the floor. I started working here full time in September 1955. My jobs include most of the steps in manufacturing the stuffed animals Mary Meyer made, plus purchasing raw materials, designing, preparing company catalogs, and just about everything and anything that needed doing.
This is a Musical Giraffe that my daughter Linda found on the internet. When I first saw it I honestly did not remember making it. Thinking back to the late 1950’s, I am sure we did not make many.
The discovery happened something like this. In the spring of 2010 Linda emailed me a photo of an old giraffe she found on the internet. She asked me if it was ours. I looked at the photo and was not sure. I did not remember the design, but it did have a Mary Meyer sewn in tag and an “I’m A Musical” ribbon that we used for many years. Though I did not remember the design, I was sure we made it. Everything about it was right and it was very similar to other Giraffes we made.
When I look at an old toy, I check the sewn in tag to see, who manufactured it. On this Giraffe there was a Mary Meyer tag – White satin with Green ink. In the early days White satin ribbon was standard and Green printing is the earliest color we used from about 1950 through 1970. After 1970 the tags we used were Blue ink on White satin.
On the tag there were no state license numbers. The State of Pennsylvania was the first state that required that we toy manufacturers had to be licensed to sell our product in the state of Pennsylvania. We checked and that law went into effect in 1961, so this giraffe was made pre-1961 – let’s say some time in the late 1950’s.
The “I’m A Musical” tag which was glued onto the neck of the giraffe was the earliest tag design we used. It was Pink satin ribbon with dark Blue ink. Years later (don’t ask me how many years), we changed the type font to a more attractive one. So this was the earliest version and fit with the 1950’s date.
When the Giraffe was made there was a neck ribbon with a bow, that was supposed to cover the end of the musical tag, where it was cemented onto the Giraffe. As you can see it’s gone. The ribbon is one of the first things that are removed from stuffed animals. Paper or cardboard tags attached with a string are also removed quite early in a toys life.
The fabric was rayon plush, which fits the 1950’s. We bought it from Baxter, Kelly & Faust, Inc. on “C” and Tioga Streets in Philadelphia, Pa. The Baxters were a great family to work with. They invited my Mother and Dad many times to accompany them to dinner and a Broadway play, when my parents were in New York City for a trade show.
I started working at Mary Meyer in the fall of 1955. In the 1960’s my wife and I would be guests of Jerry Baxter and his wife, when we went to New York City for the Toy Fair in February or March each year.
Everything was right about the giraffe, except the musical mechanism. The musical mechanism in this toy was not the wind-up variety that we normally used. It was a hand-crank version. The standard musical mechanism in a stuffed toy in those days was made in Switzerland. It had a key and a spring. You wound up the spring and it powered the music box. The music played until the tension in the spring was used up. That was the standard mechanism and was sold by a company in New York City named Swisstone. Harry Fischbein owned and ran the business. They imported musical mechanism from Switzerland and resold them to stuffed toy manufacturers in the USA. Mary Meyer bought direct from the Swiss musical manufacturers and also from Swisstone in New York City.
The mechanism in this giraffe did not have a key or a wind-up spring. The crank that went to the mechanism turned the cylinder directly. There was no spring that wound up and transferred the energy to the mechanism, which then played the tune. The crank was attached directly to the rotating drum and pins and moved each tooth of the music mechanism. When you started winding, the music played. When you stopped winding the music stopped.
If you look at the photos of the Giraffe you can see the crank is below the Red felt tail. When you turn the crank, the music plays. This mechanism plays “Happy Birthday”, which was not a popular tune in the 1950’s or 1960’s. The most popular tunes for music boxes were “Brahms Lullaby”, “Frere Jacques”, “Mary Had A Little Lamb” and “Doggie In the Window”.
The music box in the giraffe still works fine after 50 years. I remember seeing this type of musical mechanism, but I do not remember using it in many of the stuffed toys that we made. Obviously we did, because he’s a sample of one we made in the late 1950’s. It appears we did use some of these mechanism, but we must have used very few, as no one remembers putting them into our toys.
Beverly is a 92 year old lady, who worked at Mary Meyer for almost 40 years. She retired about 1985. I visited her and showed her the Musical Giraffe. She did not remember it. Beverly was in the stuffed toy production and worked on most of the toys Mary Meyer made from 1946 to 1985. She sewed the opening closed through which the toys were stuffed in the early days. Later she cemented the eyes, noses, tongues and the musical tags onto the stuffed animals. Beverly lives by herself, works at a local thrift shop on Fridays and drives her own car at the age of 92. She is phenominal. Her mind is very sharp and she has a great memory for the toys she worked on but, she did not remember this Musical Giraffe. For that reason I do not believe me manufactured many of them.
That’s the story of the old Musical Giraffe with the hand-crank.
By Walter Meyer