|By Larry LeMasters
John McLoughlin, Jr. (1827-1905) founded the company that would become McLoughlin Brothers, Incorporated. McLoughlin added the “Brothers” to the company name in 1855 when he made his younger brother, Edmund McLoughlin (1833-1889), a full partner in the company.
McLoughlin Brothers, based in New York, was a publishing firm that helped pioneer the color printing technologies that were rapidly developing in children’s book publishing in the late-1880s. The company specialized in retelling classic stories for children in a bowdlerization (censoring elements of the story deemed inappropriate for children) of the original story.
By 1886, McLoughlin Brothers published a wide variety of children’s books and learning tools, including folio picture books, puzzles, paper soldiers and paper dolls, chapbooks, and building blocks. Around 1895, McLoughlin began producing board games and published some of the earliest board games in America.
In 1920, Milton Bradley & Company purchased McLoughlin Brothers and immediately ceased production of McLoughlin games. Children’s picture books continued to be published under the McLoughlin brand name for many years.
One of McLoughlin’s children’s lines was Nested ABC Blocks. These were wood blocks, covered with lithographed paper, depicting Alice in Wonderland, Brownies, Mother Goose, and other Victorian children’s characters on the blocks. The blocks fit tightly inside one another, nested, and could be separated and used as building blocks. Each block had character’s names, simple sentences, or the ABCs, so children learned to read by playing with the blocks.
Condition is critical when collecting McLoughlin nested blocks. The paper used on the outside was thin and the wood used was both thin and inexpensive, mostly pine wood was used. Water, dirt, and children greatly harmed these blocks. Exposure to even a little water would ruin a box. However, boxes that were stored or otherwise taken care of retain excellent, sharply colored images, making one wonder how any toy so fragile could have survived for well over 100 years.
Today, McLoughlin nested blocks are highly collectible and somewhat expensive. A complete set, there were many different sets manufactured, in good condition may cost $600 or more. Don’t store these blocks away as collectibles though; they make beautiful and intriguing displays in living rooms or offices.