Old Time Toys and Handmade Gifts

A glimpse of Christmas Past was available to the public on Saturday December 12th, 2009. On display in the Lutheran Church yard in Cruz Bay was a collection of historical items, mostly from the 1930s through the 1950s, an era when St John residents, with quiet industry and self-sufficiency, hand-made their own gifts and toys for Christmas gift-giving, as well as items for everyday use.

Most of the items at the St. John Historical Society’s display came from the private collection of the Society’s Historian, Mr. Elroy Sprauve. Seated beside his grandmother’s mahogany writing desk, he presided over a table with 1940s baskets one by Herman Prince-and a miniature fiber fishpot possibly by a fisherman from Lovango, a cay known for its resident fishermen. A painted calabash bowl and cowhorn hatrack made at Bethany in the 1940s were displayed alongside handsewn dolls from Faye Federicks’ and Eleanor Gibney’s collections, and a bowl formed from the clay at Bordeaux. Beverly January contributed two racing vehicles-a pushcart and a sit-aboard-and a top, all made by Ira January, Sr. for a Culture Day Celebration at JESS.

Wist coasters from the VI Cooperative (dated from the 1930s) and a decorative shorebird made of coccoloba shared the table with a tyre palm broom. There were also three notable paintings from Mr. Sprauve’s collection -a 1980 Karen Samuel painting of Mr. Elroy’s aunt’s enchanting cottage (which was demolished when Wharfside was built), an abstract by self-taught artist Alvis Christian, and a striking portrayal of the Lutheran Church by artist and educator Aline Kean, painted when she was 97 years old.

Many thanks to the Church for sharing the yard with us, and to the historians who shared their prized items with the Society for display.


Mr. Elroy Sprauve with his grandmother’s mahogany writing desk, made sometime before 1917 Transfer.

Richly detailed, from pantaloons and petticoats to head scarf, these dolls date from the 1930s; one still bears the pricetag of 35 cents. They are probably from St. Croix.

Two mango seed and felt dolls and one cashew seed and felt doll date from the 1940s. They were made on St John of readily available local materials. The cashew seed doll wears a dress of fine needlework.

A set of wist coasters, made in the Women’s Cooperative in the 1930s are in pristine condition.

This painted calabash bowl is affixed to a hardwood stand; it was probably made at the Woman’s Cooperative in the 1950s.

A traditional St John market basket ar right, and an unusual basket by Mr. Herman Prince were made in the 1950s.

1980 Karen Samuel painting of Mr. Elroy’s aunt’s enchanting cottage (which was demolished when Wharfside was built).

An abstract painting by self-taught Alvis Christian.

Lutheran Church, painted by Aline Kean. A Howard University and NYU graduate, Kean spent her life creating and teaching arts and crafts in the terrority. She taught in the public schools for 50 years, and when she retired in 1971, she opened her home and her heart to continue to teach art, to decorate many churches at Christmas, and serve as Arts and Crafts coordinator to the Girl Scouts. She passed away at 104 years of age in June, 2006.

This shorebird proudly shows off its beautiful Coccoloba wood finish; it probably dates from the 1970s.

Fashioned from clay harvested on Bordeaux, this bowl was an experiment in St John clay’s suitability for pottery making.

Tyre palm brooms were handmade through the 1950s from readily available materials ‘in the yard’ or ‘up the hill’.

This top was made by Ira January; those made of hard woods were best, as the losers of any spinning contest got battered into the dust by the winners.

This childhood racing vehicle with its more durable wheels and construction, could be ridden and steered with the rope and your feet.

This racing vehicle with wheels and steering of Crisco can lids and string, and fashioned of salvaged lumber, was pushed along a course.


See the related items:


Resource Title Attributes
Article Post-Plantation and Pre-Tourism: Life and Work on St. John in the Early 20th Century Fortwangler, Crystal
Article English Creole-The Spoken Word on St. John Sprauve, Elroy
Article Christmas Eve aboard the Ingolfn Linck, Olaf
Article Guavaberry and Christmas Carols Gibney, Eleanor
Article JUMBIES and WEREWOLVES Swank, Robin
Article Masquerade: Costumes of the Atlantic Rim Nicholls, Dr. Robert W.
Article Guy Benjamin, Kenneth Marsh, Edmond Roberts, Milton Samuel:Stories of the Last two Decades Swank, Robin
Article God Parenting in the 1800’s to early 1900’s Swank, Robin
Article The Role of GodParents and the Extended Family Sprauve, Elroy & Swank, Robin
Article Reminiscence of the West India Islands, Second Series No V; Tortola: The Native Missionary Kidder, Daniel P.
Article Estate Sieben & Mollendahl Memories Sprauve, Elroy
Article A Week on St. John (Notes from Denmark’s most beautiful island) Linck, Olaf
Article Fever Gibney, Eleanor
Article Fever Gibney, Eleanor
Article A Week on St. John (Notes from Denmark’s most beautiful island) Linck, Olaf
Article All the Fault of Peter Fink Gibney, Nancy Flagg
Article Old Time Toys and Handmade Gifts Swank, Robin
thumbnail for Galleries/Photographs/Postcards/Thumbnails/EastEndPicnic.jpg Pic-nicking among the Danish West Indies – at the East End of St. Jan
Creator: J. Lightbourn
Owner: Private collection
Post Card

Robin Swank

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *