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Twirling Toys:
Historic Tops from the Collection of Benjamin Levy

November 23, 2007 – February 10, 2008

The Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, presents Twirling Toys: Historic Tops from the Collection of Benjamin Levy, November 23 through February 10, 2008. Nearly 100 spinning tops and top games tell the story of continuous motion in the same spot. “Twirling Toys” the first exhibition of Benjamin Levy’s extensive collection, will feature a selection of tops from England, France, Germany, and the United States from the 1880s through the 1930s – the tops your parents and grandparents loved.

A top may be a child’s delight but its movement also shows our world in miniature. Like the earth, a top stabilizes as it spins on point. Tops can be spun by hand, “finger twirlers,” moved with whip chords, spring winders, and gear or helix rods. There are tops with removable or integrated supports to start the top. All types will appear in Twirling Toys.

Man’s first handmade top, a “whip top,” spun by the whipping motion of a small stile with a leather or eel skin thong, goes back to the 1300s. When whirling, today’s tops flash patterns triggered by a computer chip. A yo-yo is a top that pulls its string back inside. You can whirl a “recuperative top” with both hands free. “Spring-driven tops” invented by the Gibbs Company of Ohio as a novelty for the 1896 McKinley Hobart Presidential Campaign were so popular the company became, until the 1960s, the prime toy manufacturer in the United States. “Pump tops,” powered by a helix-driven handle, are the most familiar. Mickey Mouse, always popular in his own right, was also, in the 1920s, a popular pump-powered whirling top.

Benjamin Levy, the “Spin Doctor” and a magician by profession fell in love with tops when his father showed him how to spin a top upside down. Graduating from Vassar with a drama degree, Benjamin took his showmanship and lifelong interest in magic and memory to a corporate world of presentations. However when his son was born, he recalled childhood enjoyment of tops and his collection of almost 1,000 tops got underway.

“Collecting tops is a challenge,” Mr. Levy, said. “Tops were much-used and then as you might expect gone, like other much-loved toys.” For the last ten years, his pursuit of beautifully crafted tops has taken him to antique shops, country fair sales, online, and to auctions on two continents.

Twirling Tops also includes tops as games. Tops knock down pins in “skittles” type games, such as Milton Bradley’s “Bull in a China Shop.” The “spinette,” another game style knocks balls into scoring pockets, and led to the invention of roulette.

Related Programs at the Hudson River Museum

Twirling Toys: Historic Tops from the Collection of Benjamin Levy,
November 23, 2007 - February 10, 2008

Friday, December 7, 6:30 – 7 pm
Spin Doctor Benjamin Levy, Magic and Toy Top Demonstration
Magician, mind-reader, and memory expert, Benjamin Levy demonstrates magic and spinning toy tops from his collection now on view at the Museum. Teen to adult.

Spin Doctor Benjamin Levy, Magic and Toy Top Demonstration
Sunday, January 13 1 – 4 pm
Magician and toy top collector Benjamin Levy demonstrates magic and spinning tops from his collection on view at the Museum through February 10. Top-Spinning Stations staffed by Museum Junior Docents and Creative Workshops. All ages.

The Hudson River Museum is located at 511 Warburton Avenue, Yonkers NY. Minutes from the Saw Mill River Parkway, exit 9, north or southbound. Information and directions: 914.963.4550 and Wed - Sun 12- 5 pm. Fridays 12-8 pm. Admission: Adults $5; Seniors 62 & older and youth 5-16 $3. Fridays 5 to 8 pm free.

The largest cultural institution in Westchester County, the Hudson River Museum is a multi-disciplinary complex that draws its identity from its site on the banks of the Hudson River, and seeks to broaden the cultural horizons of all its visitors. It engages in the presentation of exhibitions, programs, teaching initiatives, research, collection, preservation, and conservation – a wide range of activities that interpret its collections, interests and communities.




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