Little Big World

Collecting Louis Marx and the American Fifties

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136 pp.,5 3/4 x 9 1/4 inches
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“Collections are more about who one is than about what is collected. In Little Big World, Jeffrey Hammond's resonant 1950s inner child speaks through the reflective sixty-something man about the culture and magic of a spectrum of action figure playsets through a lifetime.”—Marilynn Gelfman Karp, author, In Flagrante Collecto

"To be reunited with one's boyhood toys is the secret dream of every grown man, no matter how receding the hairline or large the gut. Jeffrey Hammond delightfully takes us back to the heyday of the 1950s, when toys were small and bombs were big, and single-handedly rescues a nation of tiny plastic people from the savagery of time."—Jeff Porter, author, Oppenheimer Is Watching Me

“Every collection contains a world, and in that world the collector sees the world at large; such is the Emersonian lens effect. It is rare, though, to find in any recollected world such a special guide and circumnavigator as Jeffrey Hammond. He takes us to the scene of recreation, where objects and imagination interweave to make the world and its wonders new.”—William Davies King, author, Collections of Nothing


Jeffrey Hammond’s Little Big World: Collecting Louis Marx and the American Fifties is the story of a middle-aged man’s sudden compulsion to collect the toys of his childhood: specifically, themed playsets produced by the Louis Marx Toy Company. Hammond never made a conscious decision to become a collector of any kind, so he was surprised when his occasional visits to web sites turned into hours spent gazing at, and then impulsively purchasing, the tiny plastic people and animals in the Civil War set, the Fort Apache set, Roy Rogers Ranch, and Happi-Time Farm—just a few of the dozens of playsets the Marx Company produced.

Hammond interweaves childhood memories with reflections on what they reveal about the culture and values of cold war America, offering an extended meditation on toys as powerful catalysts for the imagination of both children and adults. Never sentimentalizing his childhood in an effort to get his old toys back, Hammond exposes the dangers of nostalgia by casting an unsettling light on the culture of the fifties and the era’s lasting impact on those who grew up in it.

Writing in a lovably quirky voice, Hammond not only attempts to understand his personal connection to the Marx toys but also examines the psychology of his fellow eBay denizens. In this warm, funny, and contemplative work, the reader encounters an online community of serious adult collectors who, as the author suspects, are driven to obsession by middle-aged nostalgia. When Hammond questions this preoccupation with the past, he comes to realize that his own collecting has prevented him from moving forward. With this insight, he offers an insider’s take on the culture and psychology of collecting.