“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.
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 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.
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’s what wonderful treasures we found inside Spain’s last Toy Hospital…
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, or they might just disappear forever.