It’s easy to assume that there’s a clear, if perhaps only implicit, dividing line between books, toys, and ephemera. While we may not necessarily know how to define each of these categories, we tend to think we “know them when we see them.” Books are something we read, toys are something we (mostly by children) play with, and ephemera are things we expect to linger only fleetingly after serving an immediate purpose.
Yet many children’s books call this distinction into question–they often contain reading matter, items to play with (which sometimes pop up or even detach from the text block or book itself), and material not meant to last very long, especially once a child makes use of it.
One such item is The Toy Army, issued by Raphael Tuck & Sons between 1907 and 19101, as part of Father Tuck’s “Panorama” Series. Measuring a mere 12 cm. in height, this small booklet-format publication is barely taller than a miniature book. It features a bright, chromolithographed upper wrapper, featuring two toy soldier figures (note the base on the guardsman), strongly reminiscent of lead figures manufactured in England’s William Britain Company at the time, with the outlines of the figures embossed to heighten the effect. On the reverse of the wrapper is a set of detailed assembly instructions, “How to Make Each Figure Stand Separately and Form Innumerable Tableaux.” Following, is a little four-page poem with the caption title, “The Little Wooden Soldier of the Toy Army,” which begins:
Only a little Wooden Soldier,
Ready the foe to fight,
Battling for King and Country,
Striving with all his might.
While most of the poem extols the bravery and sense of duty of the anthropomorphized toy soldier, marching off to serve, a touch of pathos is added later by the lines which refocus the poem on his qualities as a toy–an object of play–marred by child’s play.
Here comes the little Wooden Soldier,
Well he has played his part,
But faded and worn his paint is,
Uniform no more smart.
Now see the little Wooden Soldier…
There on the Nurs’ry floor.
The poignant view of the cast off little toy solder is somewhat reminiscent of Hans Christian Andersen’s earlier “Steadfast Tin Soldier.” But in Tucks’s poem, the story ultimately has a happy ending for the little Wooden Soldier, rewarded for his service with repainting:
And once more he’s been painted
A handsome blue and red.
Following the poem is a six-leaf cardboard accordion-fold, including five leaves of chromolithographed mounted hussars, guardsmen, and military bandsmen toy soldiers–most mustachioed and one wearing a monocle.
All are depicted standing on toy bases, including rollers in the case of the mounted figures, which perhaps helped their three-dimensional inspirations roll along–a significantly “interactive” feature for a 19th century toy! Apart from inhabiting in the same general realm of toy soldiers, they have no apparent connection to the verse text.
A sixth green color-printed leaf adds punch-out bases for the figures “in different sizes to fit the different objects,” as the Instructions detail, which are intended to enable the cut-out figures to stand. The plain gray obverse of this leaf serves as the book’s lower wrapper, and a thin piece of white publisher’s tape binds the accordion-fold and upper wrapper together. While the book’s imprint identifies it as having been “designed in England,” it also specifies that is was “printed in Berlin,” so it’s certainly quite possible that the depictions of the toy soldiers recall designs of lead figures in Germany, where they were also very popular children’s toys at the time, as well as those in England.
The fact that the Cotsen copy is in almost perfect condition, certainly a plus for the world of bibliography, suggests that it never served the purpose for which it was printed: serving as a child’s play-thing. Otherwise, this ephemeral piece of reading matter/plaything would likely only have survived in publisher’s catalogs or second-hand descriptions.
The Toy Army, is identified as part of Father Tuck’s “Panorama” Series on its upper wrapper, as is the similarly-formatted Cotsen copy of Tuck’s: Beauty and the Beast, which also has an embossed chromolithographed cover, a page of assembly instructions on the inside front wrapper, four pages of text, and a six-leaf accordion fold (comprised of five chromolithographed leaves of figures to cut out and a leaf of green punch-out bases.
Neither of these books presents a broad panoramic view meant to be displayed once a reader opens up a number of conjoint fold-out leaves (much less, a larger scene on rollers) but some of Tuck’s other titles in this series seem to have been “panoramas” in the more usual sense of the term. Tuck apparently produced several series that included either panorama items or books with fold-out leaves to be cut out, including Father Tuck’s “Panorama” Series, which included at least eight titles, and the “slightly later” Father Tuck’s Picture Panoramas, which included a slightly different group of titles and a set of printed instructions similar to those shown above.2
One of the Toy Army’s accordion-fold leaves also includes a small shield printed with the number “5,” which at first seems as if it might be part of regimental information about the toy soldiers. But since Beauty and the Beast has a similar shield with the number “6,” these would seem to be series or publisher numbers. Once again, having a couple of similar books to compare side-by-side yields information that would be difficult, if not impossible, to deduce from a single item.
Title: The toy army.
Published/Created: London ; Paris ; Berlin ; New York ; Montreal : Raphael Tuck & Sons, Ltd., publishers to Their Majesties The King & Queen, & T.R.H. the Prince & Princess of Wales, [between 1907 and 1910] (Printed in Berlin)
Description:  p.,  leaves : col. ill (chromolithographs) ; 12 cm.
Series: Father Tuck’s “panorama” series