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. 


A Magic Lantern Show

A few weeks ago our friends Isabella Palowitch and her daughter Alessia Arregui came to visit for a special demonstration. Isabella is the graphic designer behind Artisa LLC here in Princeton and she has done beautiful designs for Cotsen events and our virtual exhibits. Alessia is a senior at Rhode Island School of Design working on sculpture with glass materials.

The pair expressed interest in seeing optical material for some out-of-the-box inspiration. Since Cotsen has a large collection of magic lanterns and accompanying slides, we gathered some of this material for a little show and tell.

Magic lanterns are precursors to modern projectors. Invented as early as the 17th Century (and popular into the early 20th Century), magic lanterns magnify and project hand painted images on glass slides. With a light source behind the slide and a lens in front, the slides are loading in upside down and backwards, since the lens flips the image.


Cotsen 19169

Iron and brass magic lantern (London : WB & Sons, [circa 1880’s]) (Cotsen 19169).


Retrofitted for a modern light bulb, we were able to plug in this projector for a demonstration.


Cotsen 32949, serie 91, no.5. (Germany : Projection für Alle, before 1900)

The above slide was able to fit into the magic lantern’s duel loading wooden frame (this kind of slide frame allows for simple animation by quickly moving between 2 slides). From a collection of German fairy tale slides called Im Reiche der Märchen  (In the Realm of Fairy tales), this particular slide is a scene from the end of Rotkäppchen (Little Red Riding Hood) with the defeated wolf in the foreground. The caption at the bottom reads: “Die Grossmutter stärckt sich mit Kuchen und Wein” (The grandmother is strengthened with cake and wine).


Though it’s not the clearest projection, considering that the equipment is nearly 150 years old I think it comes out pretty well.

Closer and clearer shot of the projected image

A closer (and a little clearer) shot of the projected image.

Thanks again to Isabella and Alessia for stopping by. I think we all enjoyed the rare chance of projecting a little piece of the past.

If you want to know more about magic lanterns (including related material and book illustrations) check out our virtual exhibition on the main Cotsen website: Magic Lantern.