Secret Locations

The last toy hospital in Spain

24 July 2017
Antonio holding an antique German doll

“Do you know about the toy hospital?” a friend asked. “It’s the last one in the whole of Spain and the owner is about to retire – you have to write about it!”

Once upon a time in Madrid…

…in a neighbourhood named after the Pacific Ocean, there was a man named Antonio, who kept the child inside all of us alive. The Toy Hospital’s customers aren’t typically children. No, Antonio’s customers are adults – some are toy collectors or savvy antiques dealers, but many of them are nostalgic souls whose childhood is preserved in the peculiar object clutched in Antonio’s paint-stained hands.

A porcelain-faced Spanish doll in for repair

A porcelain-faced doll in need of repair

This is the oldest toy I’m working on at the moment – she’s around 50 years old. She’s got brown eyes and a porcelain face, but is missing her hair.

At the age of 12, Antonio Martínez Rivas began working in his parents’ toy hospital in 1945, instantly becoming the envy of his friends. Hospital del Juguete had been winning trophies at the International Toy Fair but, when plastic toys began arriving in Spain in 1952, business went rapidly downhill. Toy hospitals across Spain began closing because they just weren’t needed – toys had become cheap to produce and, if they broke, the cost of buying a new one was cheaper than getting it repaired.

By keeping up with the times, Antonio’s family kept their business going and are now the last Toy Hospital in the whole country. Antonio has reached retirement age but plans to stay open for as long as he can because he knows he’s the last Gepetto in Spain – once he’s gone, there will be no one left to continue his important work.

Antonio in his workshop showing how he's made Nancy's new leg

Antonio in his workshop showing how he made Nancy’s new leg

Antonio knows what he’s doing, especially with non-mechanical toys like Nancy. As one of Spain’s most beloved vintage dolls, a Nancy doll in perfect condition is worth a fortune these days. The hospital has many spare limbs reclaimed from old, damaged dolls, but on this occasion Antonio was making Nancy a new latex leg from scratch.

Meet Nancy, Spain's 70's sweetheart doll

Meet Nancy, Spain’s 1970s sweetheart doll

HIDDEN TOY TREASURES

At the back of his workshop, we found a beautiful and fully functioning German train set. Nearby were stacks of coloured drawers storing millions of spare parts for every type of toy you could imagine, from wooden puppets and bird-cage bingo machines to Pixar characters and drones.

Here is a gallery of other wonderful treasures we found inside Spain’s last Toy Hospital…

The wonderful German toy train set

The wonderful German toy train set

The Toy Hospital's cabinets of spare parts

The Toy Hospital’s cabinets of spare parts

Wooden toy horses desperately in need of paintwork

Wooden toy horses desperately in need of a new coat of paint

Vintage toy cars mounted on the wall

Vintage toy cars mounted on the wall

Miniature figurines ontop of the 90's till

Miniature figurines on top of the Toy Hospital’s 1990s till

An unusual English mechanical game

An unusual mechanical game in English

Woody and friends

Woody and friends

Antonio on the emergency phone

Antonio answering the emergency hotline

Pinocchio

Pinocchio

A large stuffed bear in for repair

A large stuffed bear in for repair

Three slightly creepy puppets from Prague

Three slightly creepy puppets from Prague

A close-up of one of the Prague puppets

A close-up of one of the Prague puppets

An old bingo machine

An old bingo machine

Hospital del Juguete is likely to close in just a couple of years, along with many other traditional craft shops in Madrid (like the 123-year-old spring shop) that are only still open today because the owner is pushing back their retirement. Don’t take these wonderful, historic places for granted – cherish and support them while you can, because they’re about to disappear forever.

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