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Take a look at the collection of 11,000 antique toys at New York City's oldest museum

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In my day, action figures were inaction figures: they just wanted to take a nap after working in the mine

I know Christmas is this beautiful, spiritual time of the year about peace and love, but even as a grown man, I relish the material culture: the giant trees, the ornate window displays, the toys.

This holiday season, the New York Historical — a stone's throw from the Natural History Museum on the westside of Central Park — is displaying parts of the Jerni Collection, over 11,000 toys and trains from 1840 to 1960. The hundreds of toys on display include toy soldiers, steam-powered trains, zeppelins, and a handful of replicas of New York architecture.

I spoke with curator Mike Thornton about why toys belong not just in the glass boxes of private collectors but the archives of museums. Thornton explains how the quality of toys reflected the countries producing them, and how the toys themselves portrayed the lifestyles of their era.

These days, toys get a bad rap, perceived by jaded adults as frivolous objects for children. But like more accepted forms of art, toys have the capacity to capture the spirit from the time of their creation.

If you live in New York City or plan to take a trip soon, the holidays can continue past December. "Holiday Express: Toys and Trains from the Jerni Collection" will be on display at the New York Historical Society until February 22, 2015.