Rita Stäblein - Robert Moroder






Museum de Gherdëina


Within the German-speaking sphere of civilization, Gröden has held an important position among areas where toy-making became established as a cottage industry. In the areas competing with Gröden, such as Oberammergau, Berchtesgaden, Thuringia, and the Erzgebirge ("ore mountains"), wooden toys along with utility articles were produced as early as in the 15th century. In Gröden, trade developed later. Woodcarvings of outstanding artistic merit, as documented from 1625 onwards, formed the basis for the peasant populations' manufacture of toys as a supplementary source of income in addition to agriculture.

It is known that already in the 17th century farmers in Gröden had to earn extra money for any necessary acquisitions.

Among the female populations of the valley the making and selling of lace was at that time already being pursued as a regular cottage industry. There is mention of pieces of lace of any size as late as 1814. But as toy-making developed in the cottages, women too turned to the financially more rewarding work of carving and painting toys, so that by the end of the 19th century lace was being made just for home use.

As the lacemakers went to peddle their wares themselves it is conceivable that in the markets on their way their attention was drawn to wooden toys which came from areas with which Gröden subsequently went into competition. Such toys were already popular and widely known at that time. Possibly, toys were brought into the valley by the hawker women, and the Grödeners, who, through the works of the wood sculptors were already familiar with handling a carver's knife, may have begun by trying to copy some of the simpler items. But with the realization that money could be made with this commodity, the toy-carving trade quickly spread within the close borders of the Gröden area. 1750 is regarded as the approximate year when peasants in Gröden first began manufacturing toys, as in 1788 it came to the notice of the authorities in Vienna that Gröden's woods were being denuded of the cembra pine, a tree growing exclusively in the higher mountain regions. An order arrived via Innsbruck back in Gröden that in the interest of forest conservation the number of sculptors - namely the carvers of statuary as well as those of toys - was to be reduced from 300 to half that number. From this order the obvious inference must be drawn that at that time conspicuously large amounts of wood had already been used. This in turn points to toy making, as comparatively little material was needed for the carving of wooden sculptures, whereas the fast production of toys required huge quantities of wood. Apparently, according to a source from 1823, every household in Gröden, of which there were nearly 440, was at that time engaged in woodcarving.

In 1846 it was said that 70 to 75 percent of the population were occupied in manufacturing toys in their homes.

Likewise, 75% of 3,500 inhabitants were said to be woodcarvers in 1868.

In 1880, 90% of the Grödeners are recorded as workers in the cottage industry.

These are estimates, and the figures do not indicate whether the children who helped in the industry and the women who painted the toys are included. However, the figures do comprise the wood sculptors whose number steadily increased from the last quarter of the 19th century onwards, with a simultaneous decline in the number of toy makers.

The Woodcarver

To a large extent, the Gröden toy carver followed his trade

independently. He was not subject to any regulations, nor did he form any associations with others that could have helped organise the craft. To the cottage industry as a whole the disadvantages of this lack of organization are self-evident. Grödeners employed no hired help of any kind, the work being shared within the family. Not uncommonly, the same kind of toy was traditionally produced for generations by one family. There were families who would carve only horses while others produced only boats. Many confined themselves to the making of dolls. This development resulted in tremendous speeds of production, albeit at the loss of some refinement in the finished article. It is nonetheless astonishing with what limited means the subtle characteristics of the various animals were brought out. In 1807 the chronicler of Gröden, Josef Steiner, reports: "Now every cottage livingroom looks like a busy factory; the women and girls sit in one corner making lace; the remaining space is taken up by the carvers who, at a speed that surprises every onlooker, fashion figures out of wood. Normally, each worker carves only one kind of figure. Furthermore, carving confers a certain independence on the son, even before he reaches adulthood. As soon as he has mastered handling the carver's knife he assumes total responsibility for his upkeep and has to pay his father for his board, just as the latter pays the son for his work - if indeed he does work for him".

The place of work was either your own or your father's house. The living-room which also functioned as a dining room was panelled in cembra pine and often fitted with carved doors and a coffered ceiling as well as the typical domed stove with its bench in one corner. This, too, was the room where the family worked, sitting round one of the two sturdy tables. At every place occupied by a carver a wooden block was fixed for the carver's knife to work against. Sawing and drilling was done here, too, as well as sanding, glueing, and painting. On Sundays the work-table was covered with a clean cloth. But then, cleanliness and orderliness as far as could be achieved stood in high regard here anyway.

Children at Work

Having numerous offspring was seen as an advantage as children were put to work for the family from an early age.

As early as 1796 there is a mention of even women and children being found among the most diligent carvers.

Most reports state that in the 19th century five-year-olds were already made to work in toy production. Some sources mention four-to-six-year-olds.

Children were given such ancillary tasks as sanding down the finished pieces, mounting jobs like fitting and glueing the ears onto animals, glueing the animals onto wooden bases, fastening wheels to wheel carriages - but children performed tasks with simple machinery as well, and it fell to them to do all the fetching and carrying. Gradually over the years, parents instructed their children in the more difficult skills, finishing up with fashioning those items which the family traditionally produced.

One Gröden woman who even now carves small animals freehand tells that in her youth she never attended any of the technical schools that taught woodcarving in the valley. Her mother carved sheep, and as a child the first carving job she was allowed to do was to cut the furriness into the sheep's fleeces, until later on she herself started carving sheep.

Tools and Machines

Usually the carvers themselves constructed the simple tools and machines they used since they could not afford to buy them. Even in the early 19th century it was the blacksmith and the locksmith in the valley who made the few different knives and carving chisels. In later times better quality tools were bought from further afield, and pedal-driven sandingmachines replaced the sand from the stream and the ground glass affixed with glue to leather strips. In addition, pedaldriven drills were introduced. Small hand operated grinders facilitated the pulverization of chalk for the priming coat of paint, and round timber was produced to any required diameter out of squared timber with the help of simple "beating-through" machines. These, too, were operated by children and were an important aid in the production of the millions of arms and legs for dolls, of the mountains of axles for wheel carriages and vehicles and of the spokes for wheels. The patterns often found on spokeless wheels were mostly pressed in with a kind of small embossing wheel during the turning process. It was only relatively late that handsaws were replaced by powered jig-saws.

The greatest impact on the development of Gröden's cottage industry was without doubt brought about by the introduction of the lathe. The earliest references about it date from 1846: "About 25 years ago the lathe was introduced to the great advantage", we are told. In this context it is odd that turned articles which were known from other toy-manufacturing centres were not produced in Gröden until 1820. In the Erzgebirge (ore mountains) for instance, water-powered turning-plants, each fitted with several work places, were already in operation a century earlier. These enormously boosted the local cottage industry, opening the way for mass production, as they did.

In the Gr6den cottage industry, too, the advent of the lathe seems to have resulted in abrupt changes. In 1846 - i.e. a mere 25 years later - there are said to have been already 600 of them in the valley. However, this number appears to be exaggerated as, in 1877, there is mention only of 300 pedaldriven and 60 water-powered lathes.

The carvers built the earliest lathes - primitive, pedal-operated models - themselves. Only later were the machines in part constructed to utilize water power. Regular turners' huts were built along watercourses, most of them on the banks of the Gröden beck. Many of these turners' huts were owned jointly by two or three families, and work in them was carried out to firmly fixed timetables, working hours being divided into morning and afternoon shifts. Families for whom the acquisition of a lathe of their own was not worthwhile, used the machines of others on payment of a daily fee. A family that produced rack waggons, for instance, needed a lathe just for making the wheel and to drill the holes for their slats and the axles. Hence half a day's use of a lathe per week sufficed for their line of product. There is a reference from 1877 that one worker could turn out 400 dozen simple wheels in the course of one day.

From 1902 to 1906 the valley was supplied with electricity, and carvers who could afford it converted their machines to being powered by electricity. However, this conversion was a generally rather slow process because of the relatively high costs involved.

The Material

From the outset the procurement of materials for the cottage industry proved to be a problem for the carvers, despite the extensive forests in the Gröden area. The soft, fine-grained wood of the cembra pine was found to be ideally suited for carving, but as from the start of mass production around 1820 the cembra pine stems had already to be procured at least in part, from the neighbouring parishes.

The cembra pine is confined to the higher regions and needs a growth period of around 180 years before it is ready for felling. The carvers who used it did, however, not think of husbanding the stands nor of reafforestation.

In 1838 cembra pines were frequently no longer available for money in Gröden, so that carvers had to steal their supplies of wood in the forests. Consequently, this precious carver's wood was being used increasingly rarely in the cottage toy industry. As from the middle of the 19th century its use was reserved exclusively for special quality toys and partly for the production of the larger animals. Mass products were carved and turned mainly from pinewood, but poplar, willow, asp, maple, fir, spruce, and other woods were also used.

Yet the fears concerning the decline of trees in Gröden that were suitable for carving did not materialize after all. In the absence of proper administration and husbandry of forests, it was difficult for the authorities to gain a realistic picture of the state of Gröden's woods. They had no clear idea of the actual amount of wood used in the cottage industry by the carvers who, in their poverty, could not afford to buy the necessary materials for their trade and were driven to helping themselves in the woods. Only in the sixties of the last century did the state forestry commission begin to allot special quotas of wood to the carvers, introducing strict supervision at the same time, and this measure led to an improvement in the state of the forests.

A report dating 1877 describes how wood was procured before the introduction of quotas: The local administration keeps to the unreasonable principle to grant not even a single stem to the woodworkers, either for love or for money. In fact, it refused to sell any wood at all, even though regularized utilization and reafforestation does, on the one hand, not harm the forests and would, on the other hand, financially benefit the parish. The administration justifies this attitude with the very doubtful assumption that any sold wood would only be re-sold, and stealing would continue, anyway. Thus the woodcarver is indeed forced to steal - unless he wants to buy wood at a hefty price from neighbouring communities. And stealing does go on in great measure, presumable at an annual rate of 2000 stems. As a rule the night is being used for this (enterprise). A man will walk for half to half to three quarters of an hour to the forest, then fell the tree that appears suitable and strip it of its branches. The tree feller wraps his jacket around the stem while using saw and axe, in order to dampen their sound. After that, in Summer, the stem is stripped of its bark for easier transportation by means of a rope with which it is dragged along. At times it is rolled forward in order to obliterate the trail. All this is bound with great exertion and hardship , of course, besides the constant fear of being caught by the warden as an offender against the forest laws or of the unpleasant surprise of having one's house searched and being severely punished. These unnatural conditions put the municipal council itself into a state of unlawfulness. Wholesalers, as members of the council, revile the offenders in public while urging them at home in their offices to deliver ever more goods, in the full knowledge that the material for these is being misappropriated from the municipal forests.

The situation settled down only when, at the turn of the century, it became clear that fears about Gröden's cottage toy industry dying through lack of wood, had been unfounded.

The Colouring of Toys

The colouring of toys developed in line with their manufacture. Roughly at the time when lathes were first introduced, producers in Gröden started painting their wares. Up to then part of the articles were carried from the valley to Oberammergau (Bavaria) where they were painted and resold. It has proved impossible to this day to discover how the carvers in Gröden managed to penetrate the closely guarded secret of the composition of paints and lacquers. But at the start of mass production around 1820, toy manufacturers began to paint part of their wares in the valley itself. The necessary materials were, in part, to be found in the vicinity of Gröden. Thus limestone and a pink kind of argillaceous earth for undercoating could be obtained by the Grödeners themselves. Larch resin for the lacquer was also available. The paints consisted of bone glue and a variety of pigments. Bone glue is liquidized through heating, thus the paint pot had to be placed on a simple stand over a small oil lamp. If a new colour was needed during the painting-process the relevant paint pot was placed over the flame. In the beginning, poisonous paints, too, were used, containing, for instance, lead and arsenic. There is a written warning from 1864: The female of the species, because of her sedentary way of life and her occupation with lead-containing paints, does not always enjoy the best of health. For that reason a man should exercise due care in the choice of his future mate. Besides distemper, watercolours were employed, especially for wheel bases, wheels and the small boards on to which the animals were glued. As painting was paid even less well than toy-making it was mostly single women and girls who took on the painting jobs.

In 1875 an Englishwoman gave a vivid account of her encounter with a young Gröden woman who was painting dolls: "We are at St. Ulrich. Look with me from the window, and you shall see one of "the signore who paint". She is a young Grödnerin who sells apples and pears at the door of the "Adler", opposite. Although fruit in this elevated region is scarce, and brought from a distance, she does not carry on a brisk trade. Consequently, being a prudent girl, desirous to make both ends meet, she employs her time in administering little dabs of vermilion on the cheeks of a multitude of farthing dolls. Tomorrow she will add the rosy lips, the red shoes and white stockings; the day after, the black eyes, eyebrows, and hair, all forming the distinctive features which these literal "babes in the wood" must possess. Let us cross over the road and speak to her. We are not proud how pleased she is. She tells that Herr Purger gives her the dolls to paint. He pays her a farthing a dozen, out of which sum she must herself rind the paint and size. If she could work at home she could, however, paint several hundred dozen a week, but with her stall she never manages more than half the number."

How many women and girls were painting toys in the Gröden cottage industry at any time has not been recorded exactly. Most contemporary reports state that three quarters of the workers in the cottage industry were carvers and one quarter female painters.

It was a particular feature of Gröden at all times that the cottage industry there produced and supplied more unpainted than painted goods.

Neighbouring Villages Joining

When in the thirties of the last century toy manufacture had reached its peak - after introducing paints and adding dolls to its range - the inhabitants of several neighbouring villages joined Gröden's cottage industry. However, Gröden retained its position as trading center

Yet only in the Fassa Valley did toy production grow to become a significant source of income next to agriculture. It is said that between 300 and 500 toy carvers worked there.

However, carvers (there) confined their production mainly to simple animals. Around 1900, 80% of production is said to have been horses, the remainder birds and cocks. But these toys were so crudely fashioned that Gröden's wholesalers either could not bring themselves to accept them, or they lowered their buying prices for them to a level which rendered the labour and transportation to Gröden almost unprofitable. Especially in Winter, transport across the 2000 m of the Sella Pass along paths on which you could lose life and limb was a strength-and-time -consuming task.

When in the last quarter of the past century carvers began to turn from toy production to fashioning sacred art, the Fassa Valley could not Join in this development. Carvings from there had always been of inferior quality, and as a result the Fassa Valley carvers were unable to follow the lead of their better trained colleagues in Gröden. After the First World War there were only a few toy carvers left in the Fassa Valley. During the twenties and thirties a Gröden wholesaler did the Journey over the Sella Pass only twice yearly with his horse and car-t to collect the goods.

The Product Assortment

It is impossible to state with any degree of certainty how many different articles Gr6den's cottage industry manufactured at various times, as relatively few catalogues and price lists survive. However, the items on offer in individual catalogues are by no means to be regarded as the complete range of products of the cottage industry. Besides, the same kind of toy was being offered in a wide variety of sizes and in a simple or a refined finish. As time went by, individual wholesalers more or less fixed their sights on specific importing countries and offered mainly toys which those countries ordered preferentially. But equally, all other toys manufactured in Gröden continued to be available for supply.

A travelogue from 1875 relates the following on this chapter: "In Italy, where ride is so much pleasanter than to go on foot, the juvenile desideratum is little carts and waggons, which must be gaily painted, too, for young Italy likes bright colours. Young Belgium calls out for sturdy farm-horses. Young Austria and young Hungary for prancing war steeds. Young Prussia! yes, what does he want? At the present moment he laughs till he cries over a foolish little monk, who will say his prayers, while another foolish little monk tires himself to death as he rings the monastery bell. These pious folk in Gröden are delighted that young Prussia should desire such edifying toy, believing that he prays, not laughs, over it, and supply it with the same fervour as crucifixes to the bigger children of France, Bavaria, and Tyrol."

There are toys in 250 different patterns listed for 1890 - and in another source even 500 - as being produced in Gröden's cottage Industry. For 1901 300 patterns were mentioned. Even one of the smaller wholesalers from Wolkenstein offered 210 different articles in his catalogue for 1908, not without pointing out his readiness to meet orders for all other Gröden-made toys as well.

Generally the animals on offer varied in size from 1 to 24 inches, but some species were produced up to a head height of 120 centimetres. In addition, dolls were also available in half and three quarter inch size.

The trading currency up to 1892 was Gulden (fl.) and Kreuzer (Kr.). As from 1892 the Austrian currency changed to Krone (crown) and Heller (farthing), when one Gulden ea. 60 Kreuzer became the equivalent of 1.75 Kronen. The old price lists continued to be used, however, only the prices stated on them had to be converted. After South Tyrol united with Italy the Lira became the legal tender in Gröden. On the old price lists which could still be used as the goods on offer had not changed, hand-written instructions were added regarding the currency and the exchange rate at which accounts were to be settled. In the beginning, samples of toys were brought back into the valley by hawkers.

The Development of New Models

In later years wholesalers took the opportunity of equipping themselves with the new models while visiting fairs and markets, or requests by customers for specific toys generated ideas for new articles. At the outset, carvers produced predominantly all manner of different animals until, from about 1840, simple turned and Jointed dolls took over as chief article in Gröden's manufacture. More complex toys - for cranking, for pushing, for pulling along on a string or with pendulums - were produced, too, but these formed only a small percentage of the total output.

New speeds of production were being achieved by divisions of labour within the family. Thus a simple donkey was completed within seven minutes.

In 1877, only one family in the whole valley is said to have carved boats. Man and wife together could make 25 dozen of the simple sort daily or 11 dozen with sails.

In later years, there were three or four families who carved nothing but horses of the 4-inch size. However, to meet the occasional demand for less popular sizes, a family had to be capable of carving horses in several different sizes. The most popular line in carved toys were indeed horses. After these ranged dolls' heads and a large variety of carts.

The toy-producing cottage industries of Thuringia, Oberammergau, and Gröden all vied with each other for the distinction of having ,Invented", around 1800, the simple wooden-jointed doll. But as the, invented" doll was a product purely of the turning-lathe it seems improbable that these dolls were developed in Gröden, since lathes were only introduced there around 1820.

A source from 1846 states that fifty years earlier Grödeners tried to carve jointed dolls freehand for the first time. The same source mentions that meanwhile many thousand dozens (of turned dolls) of different sizes had been sold, mainly to France and England. The economic crisis in England, however, had led to marketing difficulties. Thus Grödeners had felt the need to carve these dolls in a better, more refined finish so as not to lose the English market.

It was at this time that dolls became the chief product of Gröden's cottage industry and could be sold at such bargain prices that competing areas had to discontinue their own lines in dolls. Thus Gröden became the sole supplier of the so-called Dutch "Dolls". In England these dolls, known as Dutch Dolls, were given many other names besides, such as Plain Bettys, Gretchens, Penny- or Farthing Dolls, Woodentops, Plain Janes, Peg-Wood-Dolls etc. They were probably labelled Dutch Dolls on account of having reached England, Gröden's main customer, via Holland. Apparently the turnover of such dolls with their fragile wooden joints and their not exactly durable paint was indeed immense. They were the toys of the poorer children. Yet, as a princess, Queen Victoria herself owned some delightful small Gröden dolls which, together with her governess, she used to dress in the costumes of whichever play she had most recently seen. These small dolls still exist today. As a special line Gröden also produced the so-called "Smallest Dolls on Earth", sized between 1.5 and 2.8 centimetres, and, in contrast to other Dutch Dolls, these were still being made after the First World War. One Gröden peasant was the last who fashioned these tiny dolls. He turned them on a small lathe placed on a table, and he wore glasses with magnifier lenses while he worked. For drilling holes for the joints he used specially sharpened sewing-needles. According to a source from 1823, the number of Dutch Dolls exported from Gröden annually was 10.000 dozen. (37.142)

In subsequent years, estimates of the numbers of dolls exported rose to almost incredible heights. Yet the figures do indeed agree, taking all the relevant information into account. Mention was made in 1873 that 30.000 4-centimetre dolls per week were being bought by a single wholesaler. That is 30.000 of just one size of doll.

An English newspaper report from 1875 states that 60 to 70 hundredweight of dolls were leaving the valley every week Towards the end of the 19th century, orders for 1.000 gross (one gross = twelve dozen) jointed dolls were reputedly not infrequently received. But at that time some orders exceeded even these figures by far

During those decades larger families are said to have turned out up to 1.000 dolls per week and up to 40.000 dozen from January till October.

In around 1877, a carver was paid 6 Kreuzer per dozen 3inch dolls.

In 1891 payment for dolls of different sizes varied between two Kreuzer and three Gulden (florins) per dozen. The considerable difference in prices fetched by the various sizes of dolls is explained by the fact that - in place of the simple but very fragile peg-wood-joints - bigger dolls were given wooden ball-and-socket joints which took a good deal longer to make. Also, instead of just using round timber for the limbs, the arms and legs of the bigger dolls were turned, and the carved shoes had to be affixed after the First World War it became difficult to procure

wood in Gröden. At times felling trees even in one's own

wood was forbidden. The relatively large amounts of wood needed and the fact that simple jointed dolls were no longer in demand nipped the few attempts at reviving production almost in the bud. The "Smallest Dolls on Earth" apart, one might justifiably take the start of the First World War as marking the end of the Gröden doll manufacture. At the same time demand for the remaining articles decreased, and some of the lines on offer had to be discontinued. After 1918 many young people, stimulated by their courses at the technical schools in the valley, changed over to carving religious art or to producing souvenirs. Only the older workers stayed in toy manufacture. During the twenties the rustic style of the old Gröden products under-went a distinct change, and in the thirties traditional toys were hardly produced any more. In effect, the toy manufacturing industry of Old Gröden must be considered defunct as from the beginning of the First World War. But, to demonstrate once again the unbelievable amount of toys which were still being produced in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, there is a description dating from 1875 of the store houses of one of the big Gröden toy wholesalers: "See wareroom after wareroom filled with piled-up bins of quadrupeds and bipeds, chiefly in white wood. See these flocks of sheep by the million; these manifold chanticleers, these phalanxes of horses, red, white, brown, and black; and there the thousand little red platforms on wheels which they are intended to mount; and again more horses, everywhere horses; some supplies more accurately, carefully finished, some done in a cheap, cobbling manner, but all the future objects of delight to many little children. Here are billions of wooden dolls, flung down helter-skelter."

The Development of Trade

Trade developed in parallel with toy production. Hawking, the original trading method, could build on experience gained from selling Gröden lace from door to door. There is a report from 1754 about Gröden women who, besides lace, sold carved (picture) frames at fairs and markets, while in 1796 there were already hawkers carrying only carved goods.

Not long after, (trading) settlements were established at home and abroad. Peter Welponer of Gröden is said to have set off for Mexico around 1777.

And in 1805 it was stated that some people from Gröden travelled to various cities in the USA with lace. In around 1807 already two thirds of the valley's population had reputedly settled abroad, mainly in Southern Europe. 130 settlements are mentioned.

Towards the end of the first half of the 19th century this enormous migration out of Gröden ceased under the influence of changing trading conditions and general conscription laws in Austria which did not permit persons liable to military service to be absent from home for any length of time.

While in the early 19th century selling toys from door to door was the rule, this method of trading steadily declined with the advent of mass production, and business was taken over by the Gröden wholesalers.

Traffic Conditions

In 1856 the present road between Gröden und Waidbruck was built which eased the considerable difficulties of transporting goods out of the valley as experienced up to that time, as well as bringing down prices.

In 1868 Waidbruck became a station on the Brenner railway, and in 1916 there followed the construction of a narrow-gauge railway line from Klausen to Plan beyond Wolkenstein.

In 1890 came the establishment of a telegraph station at St. Ulrich, and in 1905 the valley was connected to the telephone grid.

Considering the fact that around 1855 a letter to Vienna took two weeks to arrive, and thus an answer could not be expected in under four, the importance of this development concerning the valley's trade becomes more obvious.

The Wholesaler

In the beginning, wholesalers may have just functioned as suppliers of stock to the as yet small outlying settlements of erstwhile hawkers, but with the onset of mass production came the necessity to organize trade at a large scale. Thus, from around 1820 onwards, wholesaler firms were being established, some of which developed into great commercial houses. For 1846 two wholesalers were named as important.

In 1880 there were in St. Ulrich twelve, in St.Christina one and in Wolkenstein four wholesalers reputedly engaged in business, and out of these eight were considered to be large firms.

Before the outbreak of the First World War four major wholesalers were listed whose business already at that time comprised large-scale transactions in religious art as well as in toys.

It fell to the wholesalers to organize the work in the cottage industry, to open up new markets and to dispatch the goods. Because of the trade connections abroad, business correspondence had to be in various different languages, and with perpetually changing customs regulations in transit countries and in the countries of destination it became necessary again and again to work out new and advantageous transport routes. Besides, customs regulations stipulated that goods had to be sorted for dispatch as higher duty was levied on painted toys than on unpainted articles.

As usual in business, there was market research to be done. Fairs had to be visited and new lines of goods introduced while toys that were no longer in demand had to be discontinued. Thus, wholesalers had to possess a wide-ranging knowledge and be familiar with a large variety of activities.

As elsewhere in toy-producing cottage industries, the wholesalers were generally depicted as exploiters of the work force, and the larger of the mercantile houses in Gröden did indeed attain considerable wealth while the situation of the toy makers was characterized by depressing poverty. Yet each wholesaler developed his own individual ways in his dealings with workers. Commonly carvers and (female) painters received their pay in cash. However, some wholesalers ran grocery shops as a side-line and paid carvers in kind out of their shops, naturally also profiting from this kind of "sale" of their merchandise.

In addition, the tendency to undercut each other's prices, a practice known from the areas competing with Gröden, proved deleterious to the workers' interests. It resulted in a steady decline in carvers' earnings.

A report from 1891 about the badly-paid workers states that with some of the articles they earned so little as to be hardly able to feed themselves, and that they therefore tried to take even less time over making these articles, with the result that Gröden toys fell into dis-favour on account of their crudeness. The writer suggests that if old prices could not be increased they should at least be maintained so as to enable the workers to supply better quality goods. This would be in the interest of trade as well as of the workers themselves.

Wholesalers did not, as a rule, have workshops of their own. Only the packaging-crates were produced by some of the bigger wholesalers in their own carpenters' shops. Smaller wholesalers ran their business purely with the help of their families, but once the firm expanded, additional help had to be hired, both office staff and labourers being employed on a permanent basis. The latter had to be Jack of all trades, carrying out tasks from the simpler glueing and mounting jobs to sorting and packing the goods.

At the start of this century, working hours were from 7.a.m. to 12 noon and from I p.m. to 7.p.m., but if necessary, up to two hours unpaid overtime had to be worked in the evenings. Workers had Sundays off. Already at the end of the last century the bigger wholesalers had all outgoing mail copied into the "Kopierbuch" (copy book) with the help of a simple copying machine.

Working with representatives proved problematic as these could frequently not resist the temptation of giving the orders they had collected directly to the workers, thereby cutting out the wholesalers and working into their own pockets. In mail ledgers one reads that already before the First World War Gröden also supplied its own competitor areas with goods, as long as these could be manufactured more cheaply in Gröden. Within the valley, too, wholesalers helped each other out on occasion when the one other had run out of articles needed in a hurry. As an example of many, the owners' residence and the store house of the firm of Insam & Prinoth, one of the biggest wholesalers of the valley, are described below: The imposing residence and a storehouse stood side by side. The office as well as the assembly and packing rooms were housed on the first floor of the residence. Four employees of the firm sat here, assembling toys or parcelling the orders. Each had an adjustable frame in front of him into which string and brown paper were inserted. The goods were piled on to these, in batches of 116, 1/4, 1/2 etc. dozen or gross, according to the type of article. Only the more expensive lines were sold as single items. The finished parcels were then carried down to the ground floor and there packed into the large shipping crates. Up to the time when Gröden was connected to the railway network, these crates were taken off from here by horse and cart. The second storey contained the accommodation of the wholesaler and his family, and in the loft the wood-panelled so-called pattern room was to be found. Customers or "higher personages" could view the entire range of Gröden toys here.

The store house of the firm is described in a travelogue from 1873: "I do not know when I have seen any sight so odd and so entertaining. At Insam and Prinoth's alone, we were taken through more than thirty large store-rooms, and twelve of these were full of dolls millions of them, large and small, painted and unpainted, in bins, in cases, on shelves, in parcels ready packed for exportation. In one room especially devoted to Lilliputians an inch and a half in length, they were piled up in a disorderly heap literally from floor to ceiling, and looked as if they had been shot out upon the floor by cartloads. Another room contained only horses; two others were devoted to carts; one long corridor was stocked with nothing but wooden platforms to be fitted with horses by

and by. Another room contained dolls' heads. The great dusk attic at the top of the house was entirely fitted up with enormous bins, like a wine-cellar, each bin heaped up high with a separate kind of toy, all in plain wood, waiting for the painter.

The cellars were stocked with the same goods, painted and ready for sale."

In the beginning the carvers and paintresses took the occasion of their walk to church on Sundays to deliver their goods to the wholesalers. But this ,Sunday trading" was abolished in the 19th century, and only workers who lived some distance away were allowed to make use of Sundays for de livery. For the inhabitants of the valley Saturday became de livery day.

Wholesalers took delivery of unimaginable huge amounts of toys. Between 1805 and 1814 4.000 to 5.000 hundredweight (I hundredweight = 56 kg) of toys were said to have been exported annually.

Between 1849 and 1853 the annual average was 3.746 hundredweight.

In 1877, 8.000 hundredweight of goods left the valley. From the middle of the 19th century onwards the figures given for the toy export increasingly contained wooden sculptures as well. Between the two World Wars the Gröden toy production rapidly declined. This merchandise which had, by the mid-nineteenhundreds already been dispatched as far as Australia, New Zealand, Africa and America was no longer wanted, and the erstwhile toy carvers turned towards other opportunities of earning. Yet now approximately 40% of the valley's inhabitants are employed in industries connected with wood.

Living Conditions

An account of the toy-manufacturing cottage industry of Gröden cannot be concluded without some description of living conditions among the working families. Already in 1807 a report stated that carvers had to sell their goods as quickly as possible in order to be able to pay their families' living expenses. Even then training for the children to improve their carving skills or to enable them to become sculptors in wood could not be afforded as nearly all the earnings were needed for food and clothing.

Pauperization of families steadily grew in the course of the 19th century. Only a few years before the outbreak of the First World War a report stated that: the toy carvers' wages have unfortunately dropped a great deal so that a substantial proportion of these workers in the toy manufacturing cottage industry are seriously beset by worries about how to feed themselves, to a degree of finding it hard, at times, to fend off actual starvation.

There were various reasons for the worsening of conditions in Gröden, such as the fact that farms, through land division among inheritors, decreased in size, that factories took up production of tin plate, porcelain and papier-maché goods, that the taste of the times tended towards perfection, and not least that increasing competition within as well as beyond the valley depressed prices and wages. Carvers who with their entire families, worked for twelve to sixteen hours a day yet could scarcely keep their heads above water any longer had slipped into the kind of poverty which is known to have prevailed in some of Gröden's competitor areas as well.

As to nutrition in Gröden, cereals predominated over meat throughout the 19th century. The barley which grew in the valley was considered suitable for breadmaking, in accordance with the need of the people to live off their own farm produce as completely as possible.

Descriptions of meals from this period mention barley soup with potatoes boiled in their skins, barley dumplings in soup, small barley dumplings with butter and home-made cheese, barleyflour and malzeflour cooked to a porridge and browned in the oven. The evening meat frequently consisted of potatoes boiled in their skins and milk. Beverages were water, milk or barley coffee. Twice yearly the flattish "Fladen" bread was baked, off which pieces had to be chopped with the help of a hand-operated guillotine-like apparatus. As a means of preserving bread supplies there was a dish of potatoes boiled in their skins available in the kitchen, and anyone who was hungry helped himself from that. In the poorest homes some of the sleeping places were made up in the workroom which also functioned as the living-room and could be heated.

In the middle of the last century fire still had to be "struck" by means of a flintstone and steel. Pieces of suet with linen rags for wicks served as lamps, and these were lit with a sulphur-soaked thread. This light was also used for work.

Relatives took care of the sick and needy as far as they were able. For those without relations general collections in the valley had to be organized.

Up to until the eighties of the last century Gröden had no piped water supply, with the exception of a few short water conduits through wooden pipes. People had to carry water home on their backs from the nearest watercourse, often having to cover considerable distances in this pursuit. In Winter water was also brought to the houses in large wine kegs by horse-drawn transport.


Elementary school education was still extremely rudimentary in 1838. The children spoke Ladinish and frequently learned to read and write German and Italian without understanding these languages. In addition, the school taught a small amount of arithmetic and the basics of religion.

Wholesalers' children needed better instruction to prepare them for their future tasks, and most were sent to educational establishments in Bozen or Brixen.

A Drawing-school ("Zelchnungsschule") was opened in St. Ulrich in 1821 in order to improve the craftsmanship of children of the workers in the cottage industry. This school was later equipped with better instruction aids and reorganized to become the "Zeichen- und Modellierschule" (drawing and modelling school).

At the other end of the valley, in Wolkenstein, a technical school of modelling and carving was established no earlier than at the beginning of this century. The impoverished toy carvers who needed their children to stay at home and help with their work resented those technical schools.

The effects of the technical schools upon the toy-producing cottage industry were in the main twofold: firstly, they turned trained young workers away from the cottage industry and towards artistic wood carving, secondly, they led to the loss of the peasant and folk element in a skill which had been handed down for generations within the valley. The young carvers were partly influenced by the wholesalers, too, when reorientation from toys to actual wood carvings took place in the cottage industry.

Living conditions of workers in competing cottage industries within the German-speaking realm were similar to those experienced in Gröden. There, too, if circumstances were adverse, a carver working with the help of his entire family might, in economically depressed times, earn hardly enough to sustain himself. The hardship of the workers engaged in the cottage industry casts a shadow over the enjoyment we derive from these old and lovable toys.



You can purchase this beautifully illustrated book at te Museum the Gherdëina

Edited by
Cësa di Ladins, Streda Rezia
1-39046 Urtijëi/St. Ulrich, Italy
Rita Stäblein
Ute Forsythe-Jauch
Robert Moroder
Adolf Senoner, Edmund Dellago
Friesenecker & Pancheri
Presel, Italy
Copyright by Museum de Gherdëna
All rights reserved



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