Sunday, July 4, 2010

surprise balls

When I was a little girl growing up, my parents had friends in New Orleans. They would go visit several times a year and my mother would always bring back two things...pralines from The Green Orchid and surprise balls. Well, she only got the surprise balls once a year and they were always in our christmas stocking. It was always one of my favorite thing to get.

When my mother finally needed 24 hour care and moved up to Washington state to live with my brother, my sister and I were left to sort through all her belongings. One of the things we found was two of these delightful little toys and we had fun remembering all the ones we had torn apart. I still have them.

If you don't know what these are, and as far as I know they were local to Metarie LA, hand made by Charles Gregor Creations Inc. (a google search turned up only two references, both auctions for these rare toys on ebay), you are missing out on a delight. These hand wrapped hand painted decorated crepe paper balls concealed small toys inside that were revealed as you unwrapped it. As the label says, 'the toy you destroy to enjoy' which is why they are so rare. (oops! I just did a search for surprise balls and see that there are many available, although not the Charles Gregor ones).

Several years ago, I made some for my grandkids for one of their holiday gifts. It was as fun for me to make them as it was for them to unwrap them. So while my g'girl Jade was here, she wanted to make some for each of her siblings and her parents. We went out to the dollar store for toys and crepe paper and to the grocery store for the quarter toy machines to get our prizes. It wasn't a great selection of prizes, Wharton is a very small town after all, but she was happy with her selections and so we came back to the house to put them together. We both wrapped them with me doing the last final wrap and then Jade did the faces with stickers she had made herself from the sandblasting stencil tape and rafia for hair.

So here is how we made our surprise balls.

start with a slinky, wrap with crepe paper

next, two balloons and a different color crepe paper

pencil erasures

necklaces (or skeleton ring)

foam animal in gelatin capsule (as you can see, we change the color of the crepe paper with each surprise)


initial stickers

the final wrap with white

the face

the hair and their names

the finished surprise balls

They took us several hours to make and were unwrapped in less than five minutes.

*picture of the toys via


  1. These are so clever! I bet any body would love unwrapping such a delight! Thanks for the tutorial.

  2. I remember these from when I was little, but we got them from a neighbor at Halloween. She gave all the neighbor kids one. This such a great memory inducing blog. Thanks so much and Happy 4th

  3. might you have an artist in the making there?

    these are delightful little gifts, but how sad that all that work and effort is destroyed in a few minutes to get at the slightly tawdry items inside.

    Would surprise balls for adults be an idea? put just one of something you've made inside and wrap it up in the same way. I'll have to remember that.

  4. What a lovely idea - like the party game pass the parcel - I really like that and as said by lakeviewer thanks for the tutorial

  5. These are fabulous and great to see the instructions unfold too. I'm sure that everyone enjoyed them too.

  6. What treasures! Wow. The surprise balls are so cute ... and complicated to make! Wow.

    Happy fourth!

  7. Oh how cute!! I have never heard of these!! They are quite adorable!!

  8. What a wonderful idea.

    I shall try my hand at it.

  9. Those are so cool! I had never heard of them before. Wow!

  10. I've never heard of these and it is a clever idea not only for the one getting the gift, but for the one making the gift.I know a five year old who would love the activity.

  11. I remember getting pralines as a gift but never heard of these. I know my grandkids would love making them and receiving them. Thanks for the idea!

  12. Surprise balls are a complete surprise to me! I keep getting astonished at how many things are out there that I've never encountered. There is so much to like about these, and I could see making them with my some-day grandchildren. I have quite a list of things I'm going to do with them.

  13. Ohmigosh! What a precious idea! Thank you so much for showing us the proper procedure for assembling Surprise Balls.

    Honestly? I'd never heard of them before. And it looks like quite a project, but the result is adorable.

    PS: You're a brave one for Googling "surprise balls," Ellen! LOL!

  14. I have never even heard of them!

  15. What a wonderful, precious idea. Perfect for a stocking because it's so many little gifts inside one bigger one. I had never heard of these before - thanks for the idea.

  16. I love these [had never heard of the either] but will be making them for a special couple of grandkids of my friends.

    Thank you for the great idea. :)

    [I am also going to make some to hang on our tree for fun this Christmas]~Skippymom~

  17. Oh my goodness what a wonderful project! At first I thought the balloons were to fill out the face, lol. I'm slow....

    I loved seeing them made step by step and getting to know the cool things you put inside every step of the way.

  18. Aren't they lovely? Very creative and simple!

  19. What a great idea. I can only imagine the delight on the face of the child who unwraps them.

  20. Thankyou for the thorough description. There's a lot of misinformaiton on the web about them, including, very often, the myth that Charles Gregor originated them. Actually, they originated in occupied Japan after WW2, which was a time of extreme poverty for the country. Paper fans, pinwheels, rolled up tissue paper that unfurled into flowers when dropped into water. a myriad of fireworks, umbrellas, coloring books printed with dots of watercolor so all one needed was a paint brush - the variety and ingenuity was infinate. Charles Gregor imported either the toys or the whole ball, and he also imported the idea. In the 1950's, you found toys as you unrolled, but by the mid 60's, all the toys were put in either a wad of paper or a plastic capsule in the middle of the ball. I believe Gregor imported finished balls, because his evolved to putting them in the center ( in a wad of paper) at exactly the same time as the ones from Japan did. Doing that was a terrible mistake, because they soon lost popularity. I have asked friends about their memories of these ever since I was in high school, and no one remembered them. I was born in Lincoln Nebraska, hardly a hotbed of Japanese imports, so this puzzeled me at first, until I remembered that when my brother was in the hospital, after getting hit by a car, our uncle, then stationed in Taiwan, sent him a surprise ball the size of a basketball. Then I realised the ones we found in the toe of our stockings every year probably were also sent by him. I made one, in the shape and size of an eggplant, for a little friend when he was in the hospital, in 1993. This child's mother co-owned Tail of the Yak in Berkeley, a marvelous store that began selling them, made (initially in the shape of vegetables ) by a local girl. I don't know for sure, but I think that product likely came out of a discussion about the eggplant I made the little boy. I'm delighted that they're making a resurgents.

  21. Child of the 'fifties here. Surprise balls were one of the great joys of my childhood - they were a bit pricey (not as much as today!), so getting one was rare, usually associated with childhood illnesses which kept me in bed for a few days. A surprise ball would keep me occupied and happy - and I still have some of the tiny treats which were inside: miniature metal cars, little wooden houses, and other little things which made perfect toys for my eight-inch Ginny dolls. The only problem was having to destroy the cute exterior to get to the treasures inside: I remember getting a clown, and a little girl with blonde crepe-paper braids.

    At one time during my childhood, individual toys would emerge after unrolling each different color crepe paper, and there were also several little toys in a hollow area in the center - I don't recall the "hollow" being surrounded by plastic, perhaps heavy cardboard instead? I always felt slightly deflated when the last toys were revealed, and the fun of unrolling all that crepe paper was over.

    Ah, memories- glad Magic Balls are still around, though they couldn't possibly be a great as the ones of my childhood days! :-)


    1. thanks for reminding me of this post. it's fun to come across people who remember the ones from the 50s. I think I'll start collecting stuff to make some.


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