Apes on a Horse and More Toys from the Void

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01 Apes on a Horse. A Paper Toy. From an Ulm woodcut of 1470“An Ulm engraving of the year 1470 displays a horse and two apes joined together in the middle by a bar and fastened to the back of the horse by a pin. When placed on a stove the heat made the apes swing to and fro.”

01 Apes on a Horse. A Paper Toy. From an Ulm woodcut of 1470
Apes on a Horse. A Paper Toy. From an Ulm woodcut of 1470

02 Figures made to move by means of living birds
“Figures made to move by means of living birds”

“Toys have in general kept clear of aberrations…. [yeah right]. Well into the nineteenth century it was the custom in Italy to tie a string to the leg of living birds or big cockchafers and give them to children to play with. The custom was so universal that we even see such living playthings represented in the hands of the Christ Child, especially in pictures of the Italian Renaissance. A curious example of a similar kind was to be found among the usually so simple and harmless German toys, as a Nuremberg catalog of the eighteenth century proves [above]. These were comic figures with space inside to hold a bird which in its struggles gives to the figures all kind of motions. As the catalog says: ‘No ones would imagine that a living bird was inside, but would suppose that it was clock-work which made the head, eyes, and beak of the bird move.'”

03 Guillotine, toy of the time of the French revolution, ca. 1794
Guillotine, toy of the time of the French revolution, ca. 1794

“The worst monstrosity of the kind was the outcome of the French Revolution, which indeed was over-rich in aberrations of taste. The toy shops put on the market little guillotines with which little patriots could behead figures of aristocrats. There still survive some specimens of this pretty and diverting machine, of which one bears the date 1794 [above]. These were not models but pure toys; and in proof of this we have king’s evidence from one whom we should never suspect of wishing to give so bloodthirsty a toy to his little son. This was no other than Goethe. In December, 1793, he asks his mother in Frankfurt to get him such a toy guillotine for his son August; and in her reply he certainly got some home-truths. In her decisive manner she wrote to him by return post: ‘Dear Son, Anything I can do to please you is gladly done and gives me joy;–but to buy such an infamous implement of murder–that I will not do at any price. If I had authority, the maker should be put in the stocks and I would have the machine publicly burnt by the common executioner. What! Let the young play with anything so horrible,–place in their hands for their diversion murder and blood-shedding? No, that will never do!”

Now I want a toy electric chair for Christmas.

04 Gothic clay doll, Nuremberg, ca. 1450
Gothic clay doll, Nuremberg, ca. 1450

05 French doll, 18th century
French doll, 18th century

“Ma-Mere, I so very want Lovesick Invalid this Noel.”

06 Thuringen wooden toys, 19th century
Thuringen wooden toys, 19th century

07 Glass toys from the Bavarian forest, 19th century
Glass toys from the Bavarian forest, 19th century

Merry Krampus.

08 Rococo sedan chair with doll, German, ca. 1750
Rococo sedan chair with doll, German, ca. 1750

09 Swedish dolls of birchbark, 19th century
Swedish dolls of birchbark, 19th century

I like my dolls dapper and faceless.

10 English doll, end of the 17th century
English doll, end of the 17th century

11 Doll, German, 17th century
Doll, German, 17th century

12 Seesaw, German, end of 18th century
Seesaw, German, end of 18th century

Best seesaw ever.

13 Figures of Monks and Nuns made to open, wooden playthings from Berchtesgaden, 18th century
Figures of Monks and Nuns made to open, wooden playthings from Berchtesgaden, 18th century

14 Domestics from the Utrecht doll's house, ca. 1670
Domestics from the Utrecht doll’s house, ca. 1670

15 Knight in tourney array, bearing the arms of the patrician Nuremberg family, German, ca. 1520
Knight in tourney array, bearing the arms of the patrician Nuremberg family, German, ca. 1520

16 Bedroom of a doll's house, from Ulm, ca. 1600
Bedroom of a doll’s house, from Ulm, ca. 1600

17 'Kasperl' from a marionette theater of the 18th century
‘Kasperl’ from a marionette theater of the 18th century

I don’t trust this puppet.

18 German doll of the rococo period
German doll of the rococo period

19 Spanish doll, end of 16th century
Spanish doll, end of 16th century

20 Child with doll; German, 18th century
Child with doll; German, 18th century

This one is actually captioned “Child with doll.” That better not be a real child.

21 Horseman of clay, from Rhodes; ca. 2nd Millenium B.C.
Horseman of clay, from Rhodes; ca. 2nd Millenium B.C.

22 German doll, ca. 1860
German doll, ca. 1860

A holiday treat courtesy of Children’s Toys of Bygone Days: A History of Playthings of All Peoples from Prehistoric Times to the XIXth Century by Karl Grober, English version by Philip Hereford. London, 1928.


Will Schofield is the editor of 50 Watts (original name: A Journey Round My Skull) and Writers No One Reads. More from this author →