Retro fix–New Toybox Time Machine will transport you to a nostalgic, parallel America of the past

Review by C.J. Bunce

The American mid-century modern design movement began in the 1930s and grew into the 1960s as a unique style of art, architecture, and graphic design.  Mid-century advertising is its own nostalgic niche, and a new book released this week provides a refreshing reboot to the artistic stylings as represented in pop culture, toys, and toy promotions.  Toybox Time Machine: A Catalog of the Coolest Toys Never Made could be a catalog of the actual toys of the past.  But it’s not.  It could be a chronicle of box art and packaging of your favorite action figures and trading cards.  But it isn’t.

Instead, commercial illustrator Marty Baumann, a creator behind the visuals in Toy Story 3, Zootopia, Big Hero 6, and Disney/Pixar’s Cars and Planes franchises took inspiration from the Christmas catalogs, store displays, television ads, and comic books of his youth to create ideas for new toys and new toy companies–toys that might have been.  And he’s put them together into an encyclopedia full of fun that will tug at your memory.  We’ve no doubt you could show this book to someone who will tell you specifically that they remember one or more of the toys in this catalog.  That’s the power of nostalgia and Baumann’s sense of mid-century design.


You’ll see ads that might have been created for View Master or Ben Cooper Halloween costumes, designs for toys that could have been Marx Toys action figures, G.I. Joes, Barbie dolls, Guillows balsa model kits, and those cheap plastic toys you could only order from the tiny ads in comic books.  The commonality is the bright, loud, color palette of the era, plus trading cards, battery-operated gadgets, and anything you can display in 3D.  And much of the reflection in design is not secretive but obvious, like an ad for a codebook for The Man Called… C.O.U.S.I.N.  You remember that classic series, right?  Of course you do.

Check out this preview of Toybox Time Machine: A Catalog of the Coolest Toys Never Made, courtesy of IDW Publishing:

Ads for 33 1/3 LP records, paint sets, doll accessories, toy jewelry, cap guns, spy toys, snacks, Western toys, and games are all here, too.  Half of the fun is sleuthing out the real toys, games, and brands that inspired Baumann’s logos and concepts.  Plus Baumann notes that each toy concept and logo have their own past that only he knows.  The details of the hundreds of new logos are fascinating to marvel over.  He’s also provided the added touch of weathering each ad, folding some as if they were in a kid’s pocket.  Each could very well be the real thing in a parallel America of the past.

Art legend Jim Steranko provides a great overview of the era and Baumann’s background in a foreword to the book.  If you’re a fan of all things retro, this is the book you’re looking for.  Toybox Time Machine: A Catalog of the Coolest Toys Never Made is available today here at Amazon.



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