Mechanical Magical Patterns

full view

Cotsen 38582

Above is a hand-operated mechanical magic lantern slide. We might describe it as “kaleidoscopic” but it’s technically not a kaleidoscope, It’s a chromatrope. The device doesn’t contain a cylinder with mirrors that reflect an image in order to create the changing patterns. Instead, the slide is in fact 2 painted slides. As one turns the brass and wood handle, the brass rim rotates the 2 slides in opposite directions creating repeating designs.

Many companies were creating mechanical magic lantern slides it the late 19th Century and early 20th Century. Judging by its condition, our chromatrope slide was probably made in the 20th Century, but it reveals no indication of its manufacturer.

Regardless of who made it, our mechanical slide is a great example of a chromatrope with a very simple but stunning visual pattern.

See for yourself by clicking the image below!


click the image in order to view a moving .gif

Nürnberger Puppenstubenspielbuch: A German Slot Book in 3 editions

3 covers in order

Respectively: Cotsen 2333, 1616, 14315 (Oldenburg : Gerhard Stalling, [ca. 1921])

Nürnberger Puppenstubenspielbuch  is not only a mouthful of German, it’s also the title of a wonderful slot book by Else Wenz-Viëtor. Literally translated as: Nuremberg dollhouse game book, the three books pictured above are consecutive editions (auflage in German) three, four, and five; all published in the early 1920’s.

Slot books (sometimes, unfortunately, referred to as “slotty books” in England) are part doll house and part book. While they are clearly a codex, pages or spreads feature illustrated backgrounds (often of a domestic nature) with little or no text. Each book is accompanied by any number of cut-out figures which can be fit into slots on the pages. These figures are often people and various objects which can be fit into the book in order to, by the powers of the user’s imagination, form scenes or narratives about the figures and their background environment.  Essentially then, slot books serve as a kind of two dimensional (and much more transportable) doll house.

Nürnberger Puppenstubenspielbuch  features six household scenes, each occupying their own double page spread. The book runs through a middle class German household, from the front hallway, to a parlor, a bedroom, a nursery, the kitchen, and the backyard garden.

The parlor, spread 2

The parlor, spread 2

The nursery, spread 4

The nursery, spread 4

In addition to the obvious slots necessarily present in any slot book, Nürnberger also includes various flaps. Here, figures can be places behind doors, in ovens, in cabinets, etc. Since these flaps need to be manipulated in order for the figures behind them to be revealed, this kind of interaction allows for a sense of motion and time to be introduced into a particular scene.

a door flap and an oven door flap in the parlor, spread 3

The door flap and the oven door flap in the parlor, spread 2

We recently received a reference question regarding the figure cut-outs that belong to the different editions (sparking this blog post in the first place). As it turns out, there are some slight cosmetic differences between the three editions that we have here at Cotsen.

As you can tell from the picture at top, the fourth edition has a blue spine while editions three and five have red spines. Since this blue spine is so much worse for wear than the other contemporary editions, it might indicate that the publisher attempted to save money by cutting a corner in production. But with our sample size so small, we can’t be sure about the spine color or material of different editions or printings.

The editions have different figures as well. The varying number of figures between our different copies, however,  has more to do with time than it does with production choices. Many cut-outs have simply been lost or damaged with use.

Figures for edition 3, Cotsen  2333

All the figures with edition 3, Cotsen 2333

All the figures with edition 4, Cotsen 1616

All the figures with edition 4, Cotsen 1616

All the figures with edition 5, Cotsen 14315

All the figures with edition 5, Cotsen 14315

As you can tell by comparing the pictures, some of the surviving figures from the third edition do look different from the later two editions. The little girl, the housekeeper, and the nanny have a different appearance.

While the fourth and fifth editions overlap in all but a few extra outfits and objects (though light and time have affected the figures differently), you’ll probably notice that the fifth edition includes some extra guests in the bottom left of the picture. These figures are from a different slot book and must have been introduced by a former owner. Besides the obvious coloring differences, they are made of much thinner paper.

Figures from other sources, replacements, and custom cut-outs were often introduced by savvy children more interested in play than collection. As a result, those who do collect slot books often find an array of outside material.

Now, with the technical exposition out of the way, what blog post about slot books would be complete without a little fun scene making?

parlor scenezzz

Young Hans loses control of the parlor while babysitting his sister Helga.

nursery scenezzz

Here little Odetta fails at quietly playing tea with her dolly and wakes the babes in the nursery.

With such a variety of backgrounds and figures slot books could potentially provide hours of imagination and fun. I, at least, had some fun making my own scenes and I hope you enjoyed learning about Nürnberger Puppenstubenspielbuch.