Curator’s Choice: A Hardware Catalogue Full of Toys from 19th Century Germany

There is quite a selection of catalogs in the Cotsen collection and one of the most spectacular on is among the most puzzling–an oblong volume  23 x 35.5 cm bound in scuffy marbled paper with a worn sheep spine.  It has no title page, but there is a ragged stub that suggests once was one.   It consists of 149 leaves of hand-colored lithographic plates and the illustrated objects have printed captions in German.  Many have manuscript notes as well.  There is a description of the volume in two different hands on the front pastedown endpaper: “Album quincaillerie,”  “quincaillerie” being the French word for “hardware.”

“Hardware” doesn’t accurately describe all the things this merchant–perhaps based in southern Germany–offered for sale.  Brass tools, candlesticks, and Shabbos lamps.  Cutlery of wood or horn.  Brushes and ornamental hair combs and decorated clay pipes and guns and swords and noodles in different shapes and sizes.  And toys.  Magic lanterns, jigsaw puzzles, minature kitchens, bilboquets, pull toys with wheels, noise makers, magnetic tin toys, china dolls heads and great deal more.

Our mystery merchant could have been in the retail business,  distributing  for products manufactured by a wide range of craftspeople.  There is some evidence for this hypothesis in the leaf displaying sundry materials for teaching geography.  

The globe in the square box in the lower-left hand corner appears to be a miniature or pocket globe issued with an illustrated panorama attached to the bottom of the box entitled Die Erde und ihre Bewohner.   Here is Cotsen’s copy in a little orange box, with a round, unillustrated title label (the box appears to have been restored). But the panorama spilling out of the box in the plate illustrates  exotic foreign animals and not people from around the world as in the Cotsen copy.  So are they really the same thing?

Luckily the answer was there in the two objects at hand.  The label on the Cotsen copy has “2. Abtheilung” in small lettering below the title, which suggests there were two editions or versions of Die Erde und ihre Bewohner.  In the right-hand corner of the catalog’s plate is shown the second version, a lacquered wood cylindrical case with a slot that the panorama inside is pulled through.   The panorama there shows just the portrait of  the “Neuhollander” or Australian aborigine, but it is the same  “Neuhollander” in the Cotsen set.

The manuscript annotation below notes that there are two versions, one with twenty-eight illustrations and one with fifty-six.  There are fifty-six people represented in the Cotsen set, so presumably the natural history set illustrated twenty-eight animals.  Identifying the makers of the other toys in this catalog would be a wonderful research project, either for a dedicated soul or team of people.

You can see more of the extraordinary variety of materials that were for sale through this retailer here

Curator’s Choice: Maud and Miska Petersham’s Toy Story Hary Janos and Get-Away

Recently a friend reminded me that when we were little, one of our favorite things to do was  noisily acting out stories from Margery Clark’s The Poppy Seed  Cakes.  Neither of our dress-up chests would have had anything as splendid as the “Old Country” clothes drawn by the Petershams, a husband and wife team of author-illustrators. Nor were our beds were painted with colorful decorations inspired by Hungarian folkloric designs. But the Petershams’ picture book world grounded my early notions of the exotic.

Years later after Mr. Cotsen hired me, I became reacquainted with the Petershams in the most delightful way.  Among the first treasures I saw in the cache at Neutrogena was the archive for their The Ark of Father Noah and Mother Noah (1930), which was my first look up close at a picture book from the rough pencil sketches to the finished artwork.  Eventually fortune  (or truthfully Helen Younger of Aleph-Bet Books) threw a second, even more splendid Petersham maquette Cotsen’s: Get-a-Way and Hary Janos (1933).  The title characters are a worn-out stuffed horse and his friend, a wooden soldier doll “faded and one armed…but still proud and boastful” as befits a Hungarian hussar down on his luck. The inspiration for the soldier is the comic epic poem Az obsitos by Garay Janos.  The Petershams’ picture book is not a string of tall tales the old veteran spins about his service in the Austrian army; its dream-like narrative set in “a far-off land where old toys become new and gay” owes a little something to the more famous Velveteen Rabbit.

Pairing the art in the maquette with the illustration in the published book is a delightful exercise in observing the artists at work.   Here are our heroes, making their weary way to the entrance to the promised land for toys who have outlived their owners’ love somewhat worse for the wear.  If you look closely at the drawing, you can see that the pencil design for the decorative capital S is supposed to fit in the box to the left of “eady boy!”  Notice how much more saturated the blues are in the illustration–tribute to the skill of the William Edwin Rudge firm that printed it.

The art and the printed version for this image shows how the Petershams fleshed out their idea for the gate to the promised land.  The architectural elements seem to be fully formed at this stage, but many of the little figures filling out the composition have yet to be worked out.

Here are Get-a-Way and Hary Janos telling their sad stories to the sympathetic governor.   The drawing is shown here with the printed version tweaked for the cover design.  At the bottom of the drawing, you can make out the note “same as the cover except blue.”  That’s not strictly true because the sun in the upper left hand corner had to go to make room for the hand lettered title.  And expression on Hary’s face is less perplexed.

Fundamental changes were made in certain pictures.  Here is the drawing of Hary Janos, chest puffed out, stepping out with a lady on either arm.  The adoring matryoshka doll in the drawing was changed out for a rather sly-looking woman wearing a pink apron with a zigzagged border over purple dress.  Notice how much the posture of Get-a-way in the upper left hand corner has been altered.  And he’s crying as well. 

A number of full-color illustrations, like this one of Hary Janos taking the lovely brunette in yellow for a spin, had to be sacrificed on the altar of the budget.  “Now only black & white” reads the note at the bottom.   The silhouette of the car became more streamlined in the printed version as well.

And last but not least, here is a series of drawings showing how the initial idea changed as the Petershams worked through the preliminary pencil sketch to a full-color drawing to the final version in the book.  It’s Hary Janos telling tales again…  I love the way the  clothes,  the postures, and expressions of the three figures change.

This post is lovingly dedicated to the memory of Helen B Younger, co-proprietor with her husband Marc, of Aleph-Bet Books.  Thanks to Helen, this glorious maquette and many, many other wonderful things are part of the collection of the Cotsen Children’s Library.   She succumbed last week to FSH, which she valiantly battled all her life and yet refused to let define or slow her down.  One of  her generation’s great dealers in children’s books, Aleph-Bet always had one of the grand double booths at the entrance to the New York Antiquarian Bookfair.  It will be sad indeed to pass through the doors into the bustle and not stop to see Helen and Marc first…