It is a truth universally acknowledged that historical research is probably the most fun you can have with your corset on.
I was doing research on Eton in the early nineteenth century a week or so ago, and was on the website Open Library reading a book called “A History of Eton College 1440-1910” by Sir H. C. Maxwell Lyte, and happened to skim over this passage:
Among the minor games popular at Eton at this period and for some time afterwards was that of bandalores. A bandalore was a disc of box-wood, with a deep groove in its outer edge, round which a string was coiled, and the art was to send it flying through the air, unwinding the string as it went, and by giving a jerk at a particular moment to bring the disc back again to the hand, recoiling the string on its return journey. Michael Hicks Beach writing to his mother in his sixteenth year says:— “I have three excellent bandylores and did throw one of them out (which has a string about four feet and a half long), one hundred and fifty-nine times without missing.”
I thought about that for a moment, trying to picture just what this bandalore “game” was…and then it hit me.
It was a yo-yo. They were playing with yo-yos in the late 18th century!
So I did a little more digging…and found this image, from a French fashion plate from 1791, along with the following information: The most common French word for Yo-yo at the time was “Emigrette”, but it is called the “Joujou de Normandie” in a caption to a version of this image which was included in Albert Charles Auguste Racinet’s Le Costume Historique (1888), a monumental six-volume work on costume (alas, the cheapest set I could find on-line was in the $3000 range!) “Joujou”, by the way, means “toy”, and has nothing to do with the etymology of the word “yo-yo”, which is from a Philippine language…but it’s an interesting coincidence, isn’t it?
So there you go. Who knew that one of the hot toys for both boys and girls in 1790s Europe was the yo-yo?