Toys and Books from a Czech Fairy Tale: Dlouhý, Siroký a Bystrozraký (High, Wide, and Cleareyed)

Dlouhý, Široký a Bystrozraký is a popular Czech folk tale by Karel Jaromír Erben (1811-1870), a celebrated historian, poet, and writer.  The title is variously translated as: Tall, Broad, and Keen, or Mr. Long, Mr. Broad, and Mr. Sharpeye, or (my favorite) High, Wide, and Cleareyed.

Recently, Cotsen acquired a set of the three titular characters from the folk tale. . . as toys!

9. 3 toys

Dlouhý, Široký a Bystrozraký : item 6979392

The toys were manufactured in the Czech city of Brno by Umělecko-řemeslné dílny Bohumira Čermáka (the Applied-arts workshop of Bohumira Čermáka) in the 1920’s. The figures are an excellent example of the Vienna Secession artistic approach being applied outside of Austria, and outside of mainstream art mediums (this latter boundary being one which the movement was especially interested in challenging).

High, leaning on his staff for support

High, leaning on his staff for support

Wide, but not too wide

Wide, but not too wide

Cleareyed, unfortunately he is missing the feather in his cap

Cleareyed, unfortunately he is missing the feather in his cap.

 

Since we acquired these wonderful toys I wanted to see if Cotsen had any books related to the folk tale. As usual, the collection did not disappoint. We found several brilliantly illustrated books which include the folk tale. We were even fortunate enough to find an english translation of the tale.

0. all books

from left to right: 33915, 65127, 15156, 28474, 30828

The first book in the picture is a collection of Erben stories translated into English by Dora Round called The Fire Bird and Other Selected Czech Folk and Fairy Stories (London : P.R. Gawthorn, 1943), illustrated by Emil Weiss. The next book is Der Lange, der Dickbäuchige und der Scharfäugige, a German language retelling of High, Wide, and Cleareyed, strikingly illustrated by Květa Pacovská (Praha : Artia Verlag,1979). Then comes a Czech collection of Erben tales: Erbenovy pohádky, illustrated by Jiří Trnka (Praha : Melantrich, 1940). České pohádky is next, written by Erben and illustrated by Artuše Scheinera (Praha : Českomoravské podniky tisařské a vydavatelské, 1926). And last comes Povídám, povídám pohádku, including stories by Erben and other authors this book is illustrated by Rudolf Adámek (V Praze : Ústřední nakladatelství a knihkupectví učitelstva československého, 1929).

Below is a brief retelling of the classic Czech folktale (paraphrased from Round’s translation), complete with numerous illustrations from the sources above:

The story opens with an aged king and his only son. Since the king is old, he requests that his son marry soon, before he dies. The prince is eager to wed and make his father happy but he doesn’t have the slightest idea of who he can marry. The king hands his son a key and instructs him to climb to the top of a tower and from the portraits he finds there, he should select a bride.

The king and the prince, page [1] 28474

The king and the prince, page [1] 28474

In the tower the prince finds twelve magical portraits of crowned maidens, each one beckoning towards him. They are all very beautiful, but behind a white curtain the prince finds the most beautiful of them all, but she is dressed all in white and looks pale and sad. The prince chooses her as his bride and informs his father who is immediately unhappy. The king explains that that particular maiden is imprisoned by an evil wizard. Many have tried to rescue her before but none have returned (of course).

The tower page [2] 28474

The tower, page [2] 28474

Behind the curtain page 88 33915

Behind the curtain, page 88 33915

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the start of the prince’s quest for his bride, he quickly gets lost in the woods. But he runs into High, who magically stretches taller than the trees and finds the quickest way out of the woods. Next High sees his friend Wide and brings him over. Wide demonstrates that he can expand to huge proportions.

High reaches, page [4] 28474

High reaches, page [4] 28474

The prince meets Wide, page 18-19 spread 65127

The prince meets Wide, page 18-19 spread 65127

Next they run into High’s friend Cleareyed, who explains that he must keep his eyes covered because he can see too well, if his eyes are uncovered he can look through objects, burst them into flames, or shatter them to pieces.

The prince’s three new helpers prove invaluable for overcoming obstacles and turning what would otherwise be a very long journey into a single day trip. They arrive inside the wizard’s castle at nightfall, and the drawbridge is drawn-up behind them.

page 11 30828

page 11 30828

plate 92 33915

plate 92 33915

recto frontispiece 65127

recto frontispiece 65127

Inside the castle, all the courtiers have been turned to stone. They happen upon the dining room where a lavish feast is prepared, after politely waiting, they decide to dig in. Suddenly the wizard rushes in. He is dressed in a long black robe fastened with three iron clasps at the waist; he is leading the lovely pale maiden, dressed in white and pearls. The wizard explains that the prince can take the maiden only if he can prevent the wizard from stealing her back over the next three nights in the castle. High stretches across the dining room covering all the walls, wide blocks the doorway, and Cleareyed stands vigil in the center. They all fall asleep.

The castle plate 16 15156

The castle, plate 16 15156

The dinner hall, page 15 30828

The dinner hall, page 15 30828

When the prince awakes he realizes the maiden has vanished. Cleareyed, however, spots her one hundred miles off, turned into an acorn on a tree in a forest. High stretches to her position and Cleareyed fetches her. She turns back into a woman when she is delivered to the prince. The wizard, naturally, is furious and then one of the iron clasps bursts off. The travelers are left alone again and the prince realizes that everything and everyone inside the castle is frozen in time.

Fetching the acorn page 31 65127

Fetching the acorn, page 31 65127

All are turned to stone page [14] 28474

All are turned to stone, page [14] 28474

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our heroes are charged with watching over the maiden for a second night, they all fall asleep like before. Again the princess is gone when they wake. Cleareyed spots her two hundred miles off, this time turned into a jewel inside a stone, inside a mountain. He and High fetch her again. The furious wizard loses a second iron clasp.

Once again the our heroes are charged with watching over the maiden for a third night, once again they all fall asleep, and once again the maiden has vanished when they awake. Cleareyed spots the princess at the bottom of the Black Sea, as a gold ring inside a shell, three hundred miles away. This time High takes Wide and Cleareyed with him.  High tries to stretch his arm to the bottom of the sea, but he cannot reach. So Wide puffs himself out and then drinks up the Black Sea, and then High can reach the gold ring.

 Retrieving the ring just in time, page 43 65127

Retrieving the ring just in time, page 43 65127

The wizard bursts into the dining room triumphantly before the prince’s companions can return. But all of a sudden, the gold ring comes crashing through a window and turns into the princess (Cleareyed had seen the wizard coming and High had thrown the ring from very far away). The wizard curses, his last buckle bursts, and he turns into a crow and flies off.

The crow, page 20 15156

The crow, page 20 15156

The whole castle comes to life and time happily resumes. All the residents of the castle thank the prince, but he humbly insists that it is all thanks to High, Wide, and Cleareyed. The prince and princess are married and the wedding lasts three weeks. The prince tries to persuade his new friends to stay and have a comfortable life, but they choose to wander the world helping people instead.

The happy marriage, page 51 65127

The happy marriage, page 51 65127

The heroes wander on, page [18] 28474

The heroes wander on, page [18] 28474

We hope you enjoy these tales, toys, and pictures as much as we do. It’s always a pleasure to discover what gets offered to the collection and what the collection has to offer.

Beatrix Potter Figurines, “Vienna Bronzes”?

item6935392_allfigurines

The whole family! in process item no. 6935392

Cotsen recently acquired a large collection of 62 bronze Beatrix Potter figurines.  The group was assembled over a period of years by Diana R. Tillson, whose remarkable collection of materials on the history of music education and appreciation are part of the Cotsen Children’s Library. The figures are hand painted and range in size from 1.5 to 7 centimeters in three general size categories (8 large, 32 medium, and 22 small). From Benjamin Bunny to Tom Kitten, these bronzes boast an array of familiar and beloved Beatrix Potter characters.

item6935392_larges

The “large” figurines; the tallest of which only measures 7 centimeters high.

item6935392_mediums

the middle sized group, each around 3 to 5 centimeters high.

item6935392_smalls

the very small figurines, all around 2 centimeters high.

The whole group again, with a quarter for scale.

The whole group again, with a quarter for scale.

Bronze figurines, Potter-related and otherwise, are often found on Ebay and in auction catalogs, in gift shops and collectibles magazines. In all these various places these collectibles are almost ubiquitously referred to as “Vienna bronzes”, usually “cold painted”: an Art Deco technique in which the metal is first chemically treated then painted and then covered in a fixative. Many larger bronzes are stamped with a maker’s signature. The most familiar in the market is the cartouche of the Viennese manufacturer Franz Bergmann which often appears, unpalindromatically, as NAMGREB (with the last N dropped). But our Potter figurines, and other bronzes of similar size, are too small to bear any maker’s mark. Although these tiny figurines claim a Viennese origin, grasping at associations with those larger and verifiable pieces and with that Austrian city of art and culture, their place of manufacture is not actually noted on the objects themselves.

So while doing research for this blog post I discovered a very strange thing: namely, that the manufacturer and date of these adored collectibles is almost impossible to ascertain!

As has already been mentioned, whenever these objects appear for sale on the web or in trade catalogs, they usually don’t mention a manufacturer. Even in one very famous collection of “Vienna Bronze” Potter figurines, that of Doris Frohnsdorff (featured in the April 16th, 1997 Christie’s auction catalog of her sizable and one-of-a-kind Beatrix Potter collection), the manufacturer is not mentioned. This collection, now in the possession of the rare book dealer David Brass, was reviewed by Greta Schuster, a knowledgeable Potter collector. Of the Frohnsdorff collection (and Vienna Bronzes in general) she said “The Vienna Bronzes are a minefield, from what I can see in your pictures you have a very good selection of old ones (with whiskers), approx. 1913 – 1933… What you have to look out for are ones that were made yesterday and made to look worn and old; yes there are fake Vienna Bronzes.”

To the best of our knowledge and ability we can cautiously conclude that our collection is authentic. Our miniatures are probably contemporaneous with the Frohnsdorff collection, resembling similar quality and condition (our whiskers are intact too!). Although we can claim that our bronzes were probably made in the period between wars, we still don’t know by whom. From what I’ve been able to uncover, this isn’t an problem particular to bronzes. All kinds of collectibles (lead soldiers, pewter figures, porcelain dolls, crystal statuettes, etc.) are listed online, in hobby magazines, and trade catalogs without ever indicating a manufacturer.

Nevertheless, it seems that there are only two companies which could be responsible for the creation of authentic Vienna Bronze Beatrix Potter figurines in the early 20th Century: Franz Bergmann (sold to Karl Fuhrmann & Co. in 1960) and Fritz Bermann; firms with misleadingly similar names that were both started in or around Vienna ca. 1850. On the history page of Bermann’s website, the firm indicates that they fixed a licensing agreement with Warne (the late Potter’s publisher) to produce figurines from Potter’s stories only very recently, in 1984. So we might ostensibly count them out and conclude that only Bergmann could have made our little figurines. Yet both firms have been advertised as the manufacturer of antique Beatrix Potter pieces (though they are, of course, easy to mix up).

It still remains unclear, however, if Potter authorized any Vienna Bronzes during her lifetime. So it is always possible that these miniatures were made by different firms than the ones mentioned but are simply untraceable. We might never get a clear answer regarding the origin of Potter bronzes from this period or our Potter bronzes in particular. If we can conclude that our figurines are not piracies (if indeed they all even came from the same place), then they were most likely made by Bergmann. But given the muddled past and current market, it might be impossible to say for sure.  At the very least, we are pleased to have received a charming collection of Vienna Bronze Beatrix Potter figurines that were carefully cast, painstakingly painted, and lovingly cared for.

 


Additional links and sources:

The David Brass collection

The history of Bermann Weiner Bronzen