Dolls’ rattan furniture

This early 20th century set of miniature furniture is the type of toy that hundreds of children would have been given for Christmas. Like the best toys, they allow the child to imagine a separate world where they can create their own stories, using familiar dolls and soft toys.

It also tells the story of global trade and over exploitation of natural resources.

This little set is mostly made from rattan, a climbing flexible palm found in tropical rain forests in Southeast Asia. It needs the support of forest trees and has a solid centre. There are almost 600 different species of rattan, but only 20% of them are used to make furniture, baskets and canes. Raw rattan is processed into several products that are valued for their lightness, durability and flexibility, for example the bark is used to make cane. Despite attempts to commercially farm rattan, most of it still comes from wild harvested plants and because of the continuing threats of deforestation and overexploitation supplies are now very limited. In the past it was a very common material and was sometimes known by the place it came from such as Malacca or Manilla cane.

Today many similar toys are made from undegradable plastic – probably in 50 years this type of plastic will be banned. What will be the materials of the future? What will Christmas presents for the next generations of children be made from?

This item can be seen in the COLLECT AND KEEP exhibition at STORIEL until 31 December, 2021.