Noah’s Ark Toys
For centuries the story of the flood in Genesis 6-9 has been an inspiration to toymakers. Thanks to the biblical connection, miniature arks are the best known of the so-called Sunday toys or quiet amusements appropriate for the Sabbath.
Examples as early as the seventeenth century survive and famous German toymaker Georg Hieronymous Bestelmeier advertised elaborate, expensive sets in his enormous 1803 catalogue. During the nineteenth century the entry into the ark came into its own as a subject for high-end toys, novelty book formats, and nursery friezes.
The recently-opened Cotsen Gallery exhibition features two of Cotsen’s most spectacular arks–one a building toy, the other a panorama:
- Le déluge universel: Construction de l’arche de Noé (Paris: Matenet, ca. 1880);
- Lothar Meggendorfer’s artist’s dummy and Color Proofs for Arche Noah: Ein lehrreiches Bilderbuch (Esslingen: J. F. Schreiber, 1903).
These toys were displayed against two different backgrounds, reproductions of illustrations adapted from related children’s artwork:
- Warwick Hutton’s Noah and the Great Flood (New York: Atheneum, 1977), a Margaret K. McElderry Book;
- Peter Spier’s Caldecott Medal-winning Noah’s Ark (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1977).
Le déluge universel: Construction de l’arche de Noé (Paris: Matenet, ca. 1880).
This toy with its combination of pictorial blocks and stand-up figures, including animals, people, and background scenery, is something of a departure from the traditional ark with a removable roof or top deck that allows it to double as storage for the accompanying sets of paired animals.
The design was not unique to Le déluge universel: there is a similar set representing the fall of Canton in 1858 during the second Opium War at the Getty Research Institute.
Like many elaborate late nineteenth-century French toys, a very showy illustration lithographed by the H. Jannin firm decorates the box lid.
This previously “hidden collections” item was “rediscovered” in 2011 when Cotsen’s toy collection was shifted into a new vault.
Lothar Meggendorfer’s, Artist’s dummy and color proofs for Arche Noah: Ein lehrreiches Bilderbuch (Esslingen: J. F. Schreiber, 1903).
The German artist Lothar Meggendorfer is best known for his humorous mechanical book illustrations, but he also designed table games with playing boards and cards, as well as “theaters” in the round showing scenes in the city park, the zoo, or the circus, constructed of cardboard leaves hinged together with fabric.
Meggendorfer’s mock-up of this panorama depicting the animals’ stately progress into the ark shows his flair for large-scale scenic effects. It came from the publisher’s archive of Meggendorfer’s artwork, which was dispersed some years ago.
Gift of Justin G. Schiller in honor of the opening of the Cotsen Children’s Library in 1997
(Note: The text here is based on the exhibition labels by Andrea Immel, Cotsen Curator.)