Baby’s First Butcher Shop: Meat Market Playsets in Victorian Times

updated Sep 30, 2020
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.

Meat carcasses hang from the rafters. There’s blood and sawdust on the floor. Doll-sized butchers stand in front, looking severe. (One is even holding a knife.) A historical mock-up for a museum, you think? Nope. This is an actual toy butcher shop for kids, circa 1850, and it was a runaway hit at the time.

Collectors Weekly has a terrific little article on their website right now on the history of toy food. Regarding the meat market playsets, they cite a 1969 book by Robert Culff, The World of Toys, who writes that Victorian children were not very squeamish:

…these “exact representations of butchers’ shops” were very popular, “with their modeled joints, strings of sausages, and whole animal carcasses hanging from real iron hooks, tier by tier, ’round the wooden butcher and his two assistants in their striped aprons.” He explains that it must have been satisfying “taking down and wrapping Sunday joints for one’s brothers and sisters, and presumably a certain amount about the prime cuts of meat was learned painlessly in the doing of it.”

In fact, miniature playsets of all kinds were popular in Victorian times.

…elaborate and accurate little replicas were modeled for every store in town: the draper, the greengrocer, the fishmonger, the baker, the milliner’s full of bonnets and hat boxes, and the sweet shop featuring “uncertainly balanced scales, jars of hundreds-and-thousands [a.k.a. sprinkles] and cachou lozenges in little tins smelling of ghostly roses and violets.”

If graphic butcher shop toys seems strange to our 21st century sensibilities, let’s consider for a moment: the writer for the Collectors Weekly article, Lisa Hix, recalls coveting her friend’s 1982 Barbie McDonald’s playset. As she writes,

In the 19th century, kids were taught how to purchase select cuts from fresh cow carcasses. A hundred years later, they were encouraged to consume overly processed ground beef and trans-fatty French fries from a fast-food behemoth. Which is worse, really?

Read the whole article and then come back and tell us what you think!

Read More: Baby’s First Butcher Shop, Circa 1900 at Collectors Weekly

Related: Always, Sometimes, Never? Questioning Your Meat’s Origin