Noah’s Ark toy set

Noah's Ark toy set
Noah's Ark toy set

written by Jeannie Swales

The animals went in two by two…

Until very recently, many homes would possess a Noah’s Ark set, often one that had been handed down through the family for generations, and yet remained in remarkably good condition.

The reason for this is that the Noah’s Ark was long considered to be a ‘Sunday toy’ – something that, because of its religious significance, was considered suitable to be played with on the Sabbath, and was often saved for that day alone, so didn’t undergo the day-to-day rough and tumble that other toys saw. Other Sunday toys might include games, puzzles and building blocks with a biblical theme. They also had the advantage of being considered appropriate toys for both boys and girls.

This sweetly naïve Noah’s Ark set, part of the Scarborough Collections, is a very simple version of the classic toy – plainly carved from wood and hand-painted, with storage space inside for Noah and his family, and all those pairs of animals. But it was possible, of course, to buy much more elaborate versions, often by German toymakers who excelled at this sort of thing: a famous German toymaker called Georg Hieronymous Bestelmeier advertised hugely decorative, expensive sets in his enormous 1803 catalogue.

The Ark toys are, of course, based on the vessel in the story of the flood in Genesis chapters 6 to 9 in which, at God’s instruction, the patriarch Noah saves himself, his family, and a pair of each of all the world’s animals when God decides to destroy the world because of humanity’s evil deeds.

God gave Noah detailed instructions for the building of the ark: it was to be of gopher wood, smeared inside and out with pitch, with three decks and internal compartments. It was 300 cubits long, 50 wide, and 30 high (a cubit being an archaic unit of length based on the length of the forearm from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger), and had a roof ‘finished to a cubit upward’, and an entrance on the side.

This Noah’s Ark toy set is part of the Scarborough Collections, the name given to all the museum objects accumulated by the Borough of Scarborough over the years. If you would like access to the Collections, or any further information, please contact Head of Collections Karen Snowden on 01723 384506 or