Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Of Robins and Toymakers

European Robin

The European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) is commonly depicted on Christmas cards, especially in Britain where it was voted the most popular bird earlier this year in a poll proposing a national bird for Britain.  It may surprise you that the Robin is not officially Britain's national bird, because this country does not have an official national bird.
Not all Robins found in Britain are natives.  Most individuals that breed in Britain are resident throughout the year, but some migrate southward.  The British winter population of  Robins is supplemented by migrants from Scandinavia and northern continental Europe.
The Robin's red breast is a territorial signal borne by both males and females.  Both sexes hold separate territories in the winter.  Robins aren't born with a red breast.  They hatch from the egg naked and grow a spotted plumage in the nest.  A couple of months after fledging the birds moult their body feathers acquiring the red breast.
Juvenile Robin moulting into adult plumage, including the red breast
People who emigrated from the British Isles took the Robin's name with them.  Birds that have red breasts or other red markings, whether a related species or not, have been called Robins.  An example is the American Robin, which is really a type of thrush.
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
So, the meaning words is not always what you expect.
To most of us, a toy is a child's plaything.  So, it is easy to imagine a toy maker as a Geppetto making Pinocchios.  However, there is a context in which 'toy' means something different.
The Oxford English Dictionary gives this definition:

Applied technically to small steel articles, as hammers, pincers, buckles, button-hooks, nails, etc. More fully ‘steel toys’

Another definition of 'toy' is:

an assemblage of numerous kinds of more or less useful wares, of small dimensions, and varying from a few pence to many guineas in value. It included much of what is now termed jewelry, small articles of plate, sword hilts, guns, pistols, and dagger furniture, buttons, buckles rings, necklaces, seals, chains, chatelains, charms, mounts of various kinds, etuis, snuff boxes, and patch boxes.

Both of these definitions of 'toy' are given in the context of Birmingham's industrial history.  So, if your ancestor was a toymaker in Birmingham or surrounding areas, he probably did not make Pinocchios.
Berg, Maxine. 2005. The Age of Manufactures 1700-1820: Industry, Innovation and Work in Britain. Routledge: London. p.231. accessed online (https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=jkOIAgAAQBAJ : 8 December 2015) 

1 comment:

  1. Great post! Thanks. I don't have any toy makers in my family but I'm always interested in the definitions of words, especially during the times of my ancestors.


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