This in response to Colleen’s post. I’ve been enjoying her advent calendar immensely, and today she writes very evocatively about the toys behind advent calendar doors; the promise they contain; and the associations of such objects with domesticity — that is, the way toys act as a sort of preparation for one’s adult life in the domestic interior. “There may even,” she writes of her childhood toys, “have been a sewing machine.” I am intrigued by the way that non-functional toys suggest adult functionality, and so was Walter Benjamin, who collected many of them while he was in Moscow in 1927. So here for Colleen (a door within a door of her advent calendar, if she’ll permit me) is Walter Benjamin’s toy sewing machine.
Walter Benjamin’s Archive © (Verso, 2007).
Benjamin’s caption, preserved on the card in his archive, reads: “Wooden model of a sewing machine. If one turns the wheel the needle goes up and down and as it strikes it makes a clattering sound that suggests to the child the rhythm of a sewing machine. Peasant handicraft.”

Benjamin eventually wrote about the Russian toys he collected in a short essay published in 1930. I think he had a lot more to say about them than he did in that essay. I would like to say something about them too — his sewing machine, in particular, really gets me for reasons I daren’t go into now for fear of descending into a vein of sentiment that may also have something to do with the season. But one day I want to write more about Benjamin’s toys. I’ll leave you with another one that really kills me.
Walter Benjamin’s Archive © (Verso, 2007).
The card caption reads: “Old wooden horsey from the governorate of Vladimir.”