Fun to play with and easy to bring anywhere, the spinning top is probably one of the world’s oldest and most popular toys. It is a fascinating object for all ages and generations thanks to its ability to spin and defy gravity. Existing under various forms with multiple ways of playing and representing different values for each culture, spinning tops have also been used throughout history for many purposes, such as toys, prophecy and gambling objects or during sport competitions. Today, spinning tops mainly have an entertainment and attraction value all around the world.
Spinning top competitions
China is one of the places that witnessed the earliest existence of spinning tops in the world (over 4000 years ago). They were originally made from natural and easily acquired materials such as wood, pottery, tile, nuts, bamboo and stone.
Today, battling tops are the most popular game in China. They are mostly used in tournaments and competitions featuring a variety of games. In one game, players use their skillful techniques to control their spinning tops and attempt to knock over the opponents’ tops. In another game, players are challenged to keep their top spinning over a series of obstacles without failing.
Sport competitions feature tops that weigh up to hundreds of pounds, aiming to test the physical strength of players.
Spinning tops battles and championships are also very popular in Latin America especially in Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Cuba and Nicaragua. This is probably because it is an inexpensive toy suitable for middle or lower class families that can easily entertain people. There are some variations in the shape: spinning tops in Latin America havea more pear-shaped body compared to Asian spinning tops (which have aflat and round shape).
(source: http://blog.chinatraveldepot.com/2010/09/get-china-country-information-in-old-beijing-folk-customs-exhibition-the-capital-museum%EF%BC%8Cpart2/; http://www.flickr.com/groups/673046@N21/pool/)
Spinning top, a collectible item
In addition to a battling item, the spinning top is also considered an art and tradition that has been preserved and passed on for many generations in Japan since the 17th century. Japanese tops are handmade from native wood and sophisticatedly painted by hands. The wood chosen to make the top is the main factor to decide the top’s characteristics. Oak, cherry, camellia are often used. A nice, big top is made from light and not so dense wood. For good spinning top, denser wood should be used.
Spinning top is a popular collectible item and decoration in Japan thanks to its new and inventive designs coming out each year.
The humming top is also one of the favorite vintage classic toys for collectors. It was originated from England and was a favorite toy among Victorian children. Made of tinplate and metal with a plastic handle, it has pictures of Victorian toys brightly painted on. When the plunger is pushed down the humming top begins to spin while making a humming sound.
Symbol for Hanukkah
The dreidel is a top used to play a traditional Jewish Hanukkah game that dates back over 2000 years.
Each side of the dreidelhas a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which together forms the acronym for “נסגדולהיהשם”meaning “a great miracle happened there” (which refers to the miracle occurring in the land of Israel).
Nowadays, dreidel is a popular traditional game played during the holiday and has become one of the main symbols associated with Hanukkah.
In the 1700s, spinning tops came to Europe from China and soon became a common toy among children. In winter, villagers would even spin a large spinning top to warm themselves up and as a way of exercise.