The Longfellow children received toys for Christmas just as many children do today. This toy depicting a man pulling a cart with a large barrel on it was a Christmas gift given to Ernest Longfellow in 1848. His mother Fanny Appleton Longfellow recorded the event in her journal, writing:
A stormy, dripping Xmas. Dined at Papa’s with chicks. In evening a child’s part of the family & a Xmas tree, very pretty… with gifts for young & old & sparkling with colored candles… Charley had a barn yard with cow, cock etc…. and Erny a man walking selling buttermilk in a barrel.
The toy has moving parts that make it seem as if the man’s legs move as the cart is rolled along. Like many of the more elaborate toys that could only be afforded by the children of wealthier families, this toy was imported to the United States from Europe. This same toy shows up in a catalog or show book from about 1840 issued by the Gi Mohrhard Father & Son company of Nuremberg, Germany. Germany was an important manufacturer of toys in the nineteenth century.
Ernest Longfellow, who was only three years old when he received this toy, must have taken good care of it. Although the piece has received conservation treatment to repair cracked wheels and missing paint, the fact that it still operates as it was designed to do so over 160 years ago is a testament to the toymaker’s skill and craftsmanship.