Toy theatre, 'Zoological Garden', paper / varnish / paint, made in Germany, 1860-1870
This scene of a zoological garden, designed as a prop for imaginative play, was probably made in Germany between 1860 and 1870. The clothing indicates it may have been as made as early as 1860, but these scenes were often produced for many years after they were first designed.
This is a particularly fine paper theatre set which has been much loved in its life time. We can see this is the case because the magazine used to strengthen the original worn-out box was printed in 1901, many years after the toy was made.
There are 46 separate pre-cut and hand-coloured pieces, each of which is still in surprisingly good condition. These paper toys were very delicate and few original paper dioramas from this period have survived in good condition. While this toy's original box has been tampered with, the diorama itself has survived almost completely intact and it remains a significant example of early Victorian toy manufacture and design.
Baldwin, P., 'Toy Theatres of the World', A. Zwemmer, London, England, 1992
Geoff Barker, March, 2007
This toy was probably made in Germany between 1860 and 1870.
Toy theatres and dioramas like this zoological garden became popular in the nineteenth century. Scenes like this one which included, the zoo's entrance, people strolling through the garden and of course the animals and the enclosures reflected the real experience. It enabled children to relive the zoo visit and move their characters through a world in miniature.
While not strictly speaking a toy theatre it reflects the tradition established by toy theatre publishers in Britain like William West and Bernard and William Hodgson who were both in operation by the 1820s. These companies printed their own sheets but by the end of the 1800s were facing serious competition from ready built theatres from Germany complete with cut-out characters and scenery.
Toy theatre and dioramas like much of the toy industry in Germany was centred in Nuremburg but there were also some established publishers in Berlin. It wasn't until the introduction of hand painted lithographic prints in the 1830s, containing character scenes, that these lithographed paper toys really became popular. Early sheets are now extremely rare and only a few examples, such as a harbour scene by F. Nap Campe, survive.