Alphabet Panoramas of Comical Characters from France

I never get tired the alphabet panoramas in the collection, even though it seems like they are a dime a baker’s dozen. I have a soft spot for mid-nineteenth-century French ones, especially those falling in the category of a children’s book for all ages, from nine to ninety, where the illustrators simply couldn’t resist caricaturing everybody and everything.

The first one, La fantasmagorie. Fantasmagoria, caught my eye because the illustrations imitate magic lantern slides with their solid black backgrounds.  The cover title shows the a man in a wig operating a magic lantern projector, flanked by a Pierrot and a dancer.  The style of the binding with the gilt ribbon around the title panel looks very French, but the publisher is the London firm, Darton and Hodge.

The subjects are not familiar London types  but a magician popping out of a box.

This is such a bad baby that the devil carries it off in a basket, a trope I’ve never seen in an English book.  But it survives in prints about St. NicholasWith lungs like those, it might grow up to be a tenor.

The animated dentures are simply peculiar…

  And of course, there is a Parisian celebrity.

Cotsen 6522

The second alphabet panorama, Grandpapa’s Book of Trades.  Les petits métiers de Grand Papa, was issued as part of the same series,”Amusing Alphabets,” a literal translation of “Alphabets amusants”  in the Paris editions.   According to Lawrence Darton, the bibliographer of the Darton publishing houses, the foundering Darton and Hodge firm may have tried to liven up its offerings by issuing all thirteen of the bi-lingual titles.  The colophon of Plon in Paris at the end of the panoramas suggests that the French editions were imported and new cover title labels slapped on the English ones.Pity the poor men of science, who get no more respect than a hairdresser.

Of the two foreigners depicted in this alphabet, it is hard to say who comes off better, Italian performers or the Kabyle man, a member of the Berber tribe who emigrated to France after Algeria’s conquest.

The author and illustrator are not forgotten.  Perhaps the “Imagier” is a self-portrait of the A. Cordier who signed the picture of the Italians.  It’s the only information about any of the artists who worked on these two panoramas.

Noah’s Art: Designing Arks for Children

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.

Noah's ark from l'arche de Noé (Paris:1880)

Noah’s ark from L’Arche de Noé (Paris:1880)

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).

Full set of l'arche de Noé: the ark, stand-up figures and scenery, and illustrated box, with Hutton's artwork as background.

Full set of L’arche de Noé: the ark, stand-up figures and scenery, and illustrated box, with Hutton’s artwork as background.

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.

Descriptive sign (shown next to the Ark in photo left), dating the Flood very precisely in 1536 BC.

Descriptive sign (shown next to the ark in previous photo), dating the Flood very precisely in 1536 BC.

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.

Lithographed box lid, with stand-up figures repeating some poses.

Lithographed box lid, with stand-up figures repeating some poses.

Like many elaborate late nineteenth-century French toys, a very showy illustration lithographed by the H. Jannin firm decorates the box lid.

Stand-up animals and background pieces.

Stand-up animals and background pieces.

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).

Meggendorfer's dummy of the panorama, cardboard leaves hinged with fabric, measuring almost five feet long folded out fully (Note: photo shown here composed of two separate photos, added together, creating the false effect if irregularity in the middle, not present in actual item).

Meggendorfer’s dummy of the panorama, cardboard leaves hinged with fabric, measuring almost five feet long folded out fully
(Note: photo shown here composed of two separate photos, added together, creating the false effect if irregularity in the middle, not present in actual item).

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.

Animals being herded onto the Ark, two-by-two, with one tiger looking quizzical and one horse perhaps having second thoughts?

Animals being herded onto the Ark, two-by-two, with one tiger looking quizzical and one horse perhaps having second thoughts?

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.

While most animals are depicted placidly, as per the usual description, Mrs. Lion looks none too pleased, a nicely humorous touch.

While most animals are depicted placidly, as per the usual description, Mrs. Lion looks none too pleased, a nicely humorous touch.

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.)