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Dec 2, 2016

Discovery of the Month: Tots' Toys

Presidio archaeologists discovered a treasure trove of long forgotten toys.


For as long as there’s been a Presidio of San Francisco, there have been children living here. In fact, when the post was first established by Spain in 1776, twice as many children as adults called this place home. The above wooden blocks, metal cars, and toy soldiers are just a few examples of the long-forgotten toys we’ve found around the park during our archaeological studies.

The toys in the photo above were discovered in the 1990s in the yards of the Funston Avenue cottages when traces of lead paint were removed from the soil surrounding the buildings. These cottages were built in the 1860s and housed generations of officers, their wives, and their children.

Do any of these toys look familiar to you? Perhaps you remember playing with ones very similar or gave one just like it to a special child in your life.

Our Heritage Technician, Edward DeHaro, did a little research on the blocks. “They date back to the 1950s,” he shared, “and have animals – like a duck, a seal, a swan, and a rooster – on some sides, and letters on the other sides. They’re part of the Halsam Hi-Lo Safety Blocks set, later bought by Playskool. They show that throughout time, all children are pretty similar – they’ll become immersed in creating their own worlds of make believe and play, and then they’ll leave their toys out in the yard.”

Juliana Fernandez, one of the Presidio Trust’s archaeologists, holds a not-so-yellow plastic submarine. She asks, “Have you ever wondered what lies underwater in the Pacific Ocean or in San Francisco Bay? I sure do – I imagine everything from marine creatures to shipwrecks…to submarines! Toys like this little plastic submarine remind me of the children who have lived here at the Presidio for hundreds of years who have seen ships coming in and out of the Bay. I’m sure they’ve wondered what life was like overseas. I know I have. And I especially wondered if they lived in a yellow submarine.”

“Have you lost your marbles?” asks Zackary Babineau, an Archaeology Intern. “Well, I’ve found them! And they’re sparkling like gems with vibrant colors and intricate patterns that illuminate our lab! Many children have called the Presidio home over the years, and that means a lot of marbles have rolled away from their original owners.” Above Zack holds a few of the gem-like marbles found near the Funston Cottages. “Marbles have a long history dating back to the ancient Roman and Mesopotamian civilizations,” Zack explains, “but the glass and ceramic marbles that we find most often became common in the 1800s. I had a lot of marbles as a kid too, but I never knew how to play any games with them. I just collected them, hoarded them, and collected more.”

Ongoing Archaeology Exploration​

Did you know the Presidio Trust’s archaeology lab cares for more than 500,000 items? This collection is the result of more than 20 years of research, and includes some really interesting finds – including these very telling toys.

Learn more about our Archaeology program >>