Curator’s Choice: Playing Old Maid with Hunca Munca and her Friends

When I was little, playing Old Maid with a specially designed set of cards beat a standard deck hands down.   The peculiar characters (caricatures, really) were much more satisfying than the bland flat faces of the kings, queens and jacks in the old Bicycle deck, with the cupids peddling for dear life on the red or blue backs…

It never occurred to me when my daughter was little to make her a unique deck of Old Maid cards, maybe because cards were not all that high on the list of fun things to do until Five Crowns came along.  Designing the twenty-odd pairs of characters would have a bit more than I was up to because repeated requests to draw the beautiful Chicken of the Sea mermaid strained by my artistic abilities were strained to the breaking point!

However, some children are lucky enough to know adults who draw well enough to craft toys and games for them.  Sometimes lucky curators are offered rare specimens that survived against the odds.  This little set of Schwarzer Peter cards is just one such find.  “Schwarzer Peter”—that is, “Black Peter”–is the name that Old Maid goes by in German, Danish, Swedish, Hungarian, and Finnish.  The card with Black Peter is the hot potato that all the players try to get rid of as quickly as possible so it won’t be in their hand at the end of the game.  In this particular set, the Black Peter is depicted offensively as a black rag doll instead of the more usual chimney sweep.

inprocess item 6541473

inprocess item 6541473

The set has twenty-seven, not fifty-two cards, and seems to be complete because it fits perfectly in the blue box with the illustrated title label that reads in translation: “This game of Black Peter was painted for her dear friends Ernst and Anneliese Grossenbacher in St. Gall.”  It is signed Gertrud Lendorff, who just might be the Swiss art historian from Basel (1900-1981). The title label depicts a black baby doll and Lendorff’s model might have been a Heubach bisque character doll.  She redrew the same doll on the card with the caption “Der Schwarze Peterli! Nicht der Schwarze Peter!” [The little Black Peter! Not the Black Peter!].  It is an opprobrious caricature with unnaturally bright red lips.  But unlike some Heubach black baby dolls, it wears what looks like a knitted onesie instead of some spurious form of “native dress.”

covertitle

The cards cannot be earlier than the 1930s: the pair with the Union Jack in the upper left hand corners consist of Pamela and “Margaret Rose aus England.”  Margaret Rose is a little girl in a blue coat and hat with a green scarf, who must be the late Princess Margaret (1930-2002), Queen Elizabeth II’s sister.

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For the most part, the cards depict all kinds of toys made of porcelain, clay, celluloid, and wood, such as Hansli and the matryoshka doll Tatyiana and her five daughters shown below.

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A famous character from children’s books also makes an appearance here: Beatrix Potter’s Hunca Munca from The Tale of Two Bad Mice, identified only as “nach einem Englischen Kinderbuch,” that is, “from an English children’s book.”  It’s amusing that the illustrations of Hunca Munca Lendorff redrew are the ones where this bad little mouse was behaving well relatively well.

Were the little Grossenbachers for whom Lendorff made the cards reading The Tale of Two Bad Mice in German translation?  Or was Lendorff introducing them to a childhood favorite of hers? The cards don’t provide any clues about the circumstances in which they were made or how they were received, but they are testimony to Potter’s appeal outside her homeland.

swiss cards_cover

 

 

 

 

New Exhibition Coming This Thursday, May 29th 2014

Just in time for Reunions, Cotsen will be presenting our newest exhibition:

Building Books: Architecture for Children

The exhibition will feature a diverse array of toys and picture books focused around a central theme of all things constructive. Architects and architecture, builders and buildings, prints and cards and books and blocks! The items featured in the exhibit hail from 10 countries, across 3 continents, and nearly 275 years (from 1740 to the present day). Join us in celebrating the rich history of the connection between children’s books and toys with building and architecture.

Without spoiling too much of what will be available in the gallery, I though you might appreciate seeing some of the building that went into getting the exhibit ready (sorry, couldn’t help myself). Some of the items pictured below didn’t make it into the final show. You’ll have to come in on Thursday, May 29th to see what made it in. . .

Storybook City.  167 Pieces. Skaneateles, NY : T.C. Timber,  ca. 1991.  Manufactured by Habermaas Corporation.

Storybook City. 167 Pieces. Skaneateles, NY : T.C. Timber, ca. 1991. Manufactured by Habermaas Corporation.

Shinban Ueno Toeizan kirikumi toro-e. [Newly Printed Ueno Toeizan Cut and Assemble Sheet]   Illustrated by Kuninaga. Tokyo?  ca. 1920?

Shinban Ueno Toeizan kirikumi toro-e. [Newly Printed Ueno Toeizan Cut and Assemble Sheet] Illustrated by Kuninaga. Tokyo? ca. 1920?

Das Kind als Märchenbaumeister [The Child as Fairy Tale Architect] Ludwigsburg, Germany : Hausser, Otto, Max & Mϋller, Freyer, ca. 1910.

Das Kind als Märchenbaumeister [The Child as Fairy Tale Architect] Ludwigsburg, Germany : Hausser, Otto, Max & Mϋller, Freyer, ca. 1910.

A Grocer’s Shop. (Clark’s Monster Models, no. 3) London?: Clark, between 1860 and 1870?

A Grocer’s Shop. (Clark’s Monster Models, no. 3) London?: Clark, between 1860 and 1870?

Richter’s Anchor Box No. 12.  Rudolstadt, Germany : F. Ad. Richter & Co. (Anker Steinbaukasten), 1884.

Richter’s Anchor Box No. 12. Rudolstadt, Germany : F. Ad. Richter & Co. (Anker Steinbaukasten), 1884.

Friedrich Boer. 3 Jüngen erforschen eine Stadt: Ein Bilderbuch mit Foto, Bildmontagen und Zeichnungen. Berlin: Herbert Stuffer Verlag, 1933.

Friedrich Boer. 3 Jüngen erforschen eine Stadt: Ein Bilderbuch mit Foto, Bildmontagen und Zeichnungen. Berlin: Herbert Stuffer Verlag, 1933.

Congratulations to all our 2014 graduates, and welcome back Alumni!