Carnivals, circuses, amusement parks, and state fairs all brought special opportunities for entertainment, long before Disneyland introduced Americans to the "theme park" in 1955. Each of these public entertainment venues offered visitors the opportunity to test their skills against games of chance. Beyond barkers shouting "Step right up!," games of chance lured participants with flashy prizes. Chalkware figurines emerged in the early twentieth century as prizes for shooting galleries, target games, and other arcade attractions. Actually made of plaster of Paris, chalkware served as an inexpensive giveaway, replacing the pricier ceramic figurines that had previously been featured as prizes at fairs. Carnival chalk figurines typically had gaudy colors and bold detailing, applied with air brushes starting in the 1920s. Some figures had wigs, feathers, or glitter to give them added "zing," while others were molded in the form of popular characters from the comic pages, radio, or movies. Chalkware broke easily, though the resulting shards could be put to use to draw sidewalk hopscotch grids. By the 1960s, stuffed animals--which were even cheaper and much more durable--had triumphed over chalkware figurines to become the preferred prize at arcade games of chance.


  • Title: Figurine
  • Date Created: ca. 1935
  • Location: USA
  • Subject Keywords: girl
  • Type: Travel & Souvenirs
  • Medium: plaster, glitter
  • Object ID: 109.6085
  • Credit Line: Gift of Janet L. Vart in honor of Kate O'Grady and Dorothy Dixon

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