This post from 2018 is offered again to get you in the holiday spirit of consumption. When you need a break clicking your way through the Christmas list on the Amazon website, try browsing this remarkable retail catalog in the Cotsen.
There is quite a selection of catalogs in the Cotsen collection and one of the most spectacular 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 there was one once. It has 149 leaves of hand-colored lithographic plates and the illustrated objects have printed captions in German and 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.” Click here to link to the digital facsimile now. There is also a link at the end of the text.
“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, china dolls’ heads, noise makers, bells, magnetic tin toys, papier mache figures of animals and great deal more.
Our mystery merchant could have been in the retail business, distributing for products manufactured by a wide range of craftspeople. Below are leaves showing the materials available 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