Where did the spinning top come from?

Spinning tops have been around so long that no one knows who spun the first one. It is likely that the first spinning top was a nut or acorn spun by a curious child. It seems likely that natural curiosity began the craft of top spinning in various places around the world.

This might have happened because spinning objects are so fascinating. They are fun to play with and easy to experiment with. After observing the spinning acorn, inventing improvements doesn't seem so difficult. Children with spare time probably carved tops or had their father or grandfather do it for them.

Of course this is partly speculation. It is interesting to notice however that there are dozens of stories about spinning tops in the early 1800's through the early 1900's. One example describes a boy who discovers with delight the ability to use his father's wood turning lathe to make a perfect spinning top. This discovery allows the boy to both outperform his friends hand carved tops, and to contemplate a small top making business of his own.

The Chinese have spun tsa lin (tops) and the ko-en-gen (diabolo) for centuries. I have a video in my collection showing Chinese children practicing together. The world's largest top is located in China. It weighs about 280kg.

In Japan, koma asobi (top spinning) has been enjoyed by adults and children for centuries. Several of the tops in my collection come from Japan.

The dreidel is a top used to play a traditional Jewish Hanukkah game that dates back over 2000 years. A modern dreidel is available in the catalog at the back of this book.

By the 1700's, Europe was introduced to both the spinning top and the diabolo. Villages in Shakesphere's day sometimes kept a large spinning top in the town square. On cold days villagers could spin the top as exercise and to warm themselves.

The spinning top was also one of the earliest toy patents granted by the United States Patent Office. Tops were among the first toys patented in the United States. There are various kinds of spinning tops. A few have already been mentioned.

Most people in the United States are familiar with the large plunger top. The mechanism inside the top causes it to spin when the plunger is pumped up and down. The finger top (usually very inexpensive) begins spinning by twirling it between the thumb and fingers. Flip tops are designed to flip over when they are spun!

The whipping top was more popular in Europe. It is spun by hitting it with a lash or whip. Mechanical springs are used in some tops to wind up the top and let it go spinning when the spring is released.

The peg top is spun by winding a string or cord around the top and throwing the top to unwind the string and make the top spin. This book will study the peg top in more detail.

Top Information
International Top Spinners Association
Watts' Tops
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