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Toy theatre
Title : Toy theatre Toy theatre View More Images
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Place Of Creation : London
Publisher : Pollock's Toy Theatres
Date of creation : 18--?
Format : Toy
Dimensions : 400 x 460 x 410 mm
Contributor : State Library of South Australia
Catalogue record
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Description :

A paper toy theatre mounted on a wooden frame with trapdoor, with four candles for footlights, two red velvet curtains, a backdrop and side wings and four wire rods for manipulating the characters. Characters and scenes are held for Maid and the Magpie, Oliver Twist, The Miller and his men, Don Quixote and Sleeping Beauty. There is also a set of general scenes to suit any play.

With this toy theatre children could act out a drama or pantomime, perhaps one they had seen on stage with their parents, or perhaps just because they liked to act out stories. Playing with toy theatres was an acceptable part in a child's education as it helped train them in speech, public presentation and in role management.

Toy theatres are believed to have been invented by William West in the early 19th century. Other printers and stationers were quick to follow suit with what was proving a popular home entertainment. By the late 19th century, however, interest was waning.

The plays were purchased as sheets or in booklet form; a penny plain or twopence coloured. If purchased plain, the children had first to colour-in the characters and scenes, then carefully paste onto card and cut them out. If purchased 'coloured' then that first task was already done. Of course the players needed a stage on which to perform and mostly these were made by the young boys in the family: a wooden floor, usually with some style of trapdoor, and four wooden uprights. These supported the thin rails arranged in pairs through which scenes and wings could be inserted. The addition of a curtain and a proscenium across the front of the stage completed the stage set-up. Alternatively, a skeleton stage could be purchased ready-made.

Once these tasks were done, the children could act out the play with the characters and using the script in the book. The Miller and his men, a story of a gang of robbers, was one of the most popular of the plays.

Period : 1884-1913
Further reading :

Burton, Anthony. Children's pleasures: books, toys and games from the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood, London, V & A Publications, 1996

King, Constance Eileen. The encyclopedia of toys, Adelaide: Rigby, 1978

Speaight, George. The history of the English toy theatre, London: Studio Vista, 1969

Wilson, A. E. Penny plain, twopence coloured; a history of the juvenile drama, New York: B. Blom [1969]

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