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Child's spade

  • Place of origin:

    New Jersey (manufactured)

  • Date:

    ca. 1955 (manufactured)

  • Artist/Maker:

    J. Chein & Company (manufacturers)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Colour-lithographed tin-plated steel, pressed

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Seaside trips have been an important part of British family life since the nineteenth century, with fairly specific types of child-centred design, in terms of function and decoration. In this example, the graphic association of the act of digging on a beach with the act of burying or uncovering treasure is a pleasing one, alluding to a popular element in a large body of children’s literature.

Physical description

Child's spade, pressed steel with colour-lithographed tin-plating. The spade is made from one piece of steel, the shaft is formed into a tube for added strength. The handle is yellow, where it meets the shaft there is a red ship's wheel. The shaft itself is red, with a design of an encircling rope descending in a spiral toward the blade, terminating with an anchor. On the blade is a male figure representing a pirate, wearing a long cap, beard, pigtail, red and white striped t-shirt and bell-bottom trousers, with bare feet. There is a red and green parrot on the pirate's right shoulder and a cutlass on his right hip. The pirate is standing on a sandy beach with palm leaves above him, and the trunk of a palm tree to his left. At the pirate's feet is an open treasure chest, overflowing with gold coins and jewels. The trail of gold coins is dropping from the pirate's left hand into the chest.

Place of Origin

New Jersey (manufactured)


ca. 1955 (manufactured)


J. Chein & Company (manufacturers)

Materials and Techniques

Colour-lithographed tin-plated steel, pressed


Height: 10.1 cm, Width: 16.4 cm

Object history note

Purchased by the Museum in 2017 [2017/430]

Historical context note

Child-sized tools are a popular genre of toy, they can be either merely representative of those used by adults, or actual miniature working tools. In the course of the twentieth century, children’s tools were perceived mainly as a “boy’s” toy, with the intention that young boys could obtain useful manual skills through emulating an adult’s use them, as well as encouraging their creativity. This gives them the same spirit as other ‘vocational’ toys.

From the late-eighteenth century until the mid-nineteenth century, seaside resorts had been the exclusive province of the middle-and-upper-classes. Trips to the seaside became a regular pastime for many more British families following the expansion of the railways and the offer of more affordable fares. Seaside holidays became associated with a number of activities, such as donkey rides and the building of sandcastles.

The notion that pirates buried their wealth, ostensibly to collect it at a later date, probably originated with a real pirate, Captain William Kidd (1654-1701), who supposedly buried part of his treasure at Long Island, New York. Finding treasure has become one of the most common and obvious elements for pirates in children’s culture. Most pirate stories since Robert Louis Stevenson’s influential adventure novel Treasure Island (1882) have involved a search for treasure, buried or otherwise.

Descriptive line

Child's spade with pirate design, colour-lithographed tin-plated steel, J. Chein and Co., USA, ca. 1955

Production Note

The company logo on the blade of this object has non-shaded portions, dating it to around 1955. The earlier shield logo used between 1933 and ca. 1950 had shaded portions.


Steel; Tin


Pressing; Colour lithography

Subjects depicted

Palm; Pirates; Treasure; Parrots


Children & Childhood; Outdoor games & toys; Tools & Equipment; Play

Production Type

Mass produced


Museum of Childhood

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