Toys and toybooks

The Catalogue of the Intercolonial Exhibition in 1875 reported the following in relation to the manufacture of toys in Australia.

The only Toys we make for ourselves are wooden horses, waggons, carts, and wheelbarrows, and wickerwork baskets, dolls' perambulators, &c.

The toys in use among us are chiefly of European manufacture, and are imported from England; a few also come from China. The importation amounts to about £12,000 a year. Every novelty for the amusement of the young that is introduced in London very speedily makes its appearance here also

The nineteenth century toys that have been donated to the Children's Literature Research Collection have mainly been imported from overseas. Those in the Lucy Collection, for example, came from Germany.

Toys that taught domestic skills were popular presents for young girls. The Collection includes a sewing box, c.1890, and a hat box, 1918, with miniature straw hats that could be decorated with silks and feathers. There are also a large variety of irons and sewing machines for making dolls' clothes and a beautiful array of tea sets for teaching social graces. Dolls and doll's houses completed this domestic scene.

For boys there were magic trick boxes, tops, marbles, toy guns and lead soldiers. The 'Chinese puzzle game' or 'tangram' was all the rage. It was comprised of seven blocks cut from a square. A less taxing game of construction was played with a wooden mosaic board furnished with coloured pegs, and pattern sheets. Novel optical and auditory toys were nursery favourites during the Victorian era and were identified by grandsounding names such as Phantamascope (also known as Phenakisticope or Magic Disc), Kaleidoscope top and the musical Multiphone.

From 1810, with S. and J. Fuller's paper dolls outfitted with costumes to accompany the adventures in his story books to Raphael Tuck's paper dolls in the 1890s representing fairy tale characters, Australian children were given the same toybooks as their English cousins.

Dean & Sons pioneered inexpensive, highly coloured toybooks from the 1820s, which were accompanied by this reassuring statement: "No book in all the series will contain anything approaching vulgarity-the Publishers' aim being to furnish amusement, coupled with refinement, for our dear little ones". They specialised in moveable books in which illustrations are given three-dimensional life or change to different pictures, when various levers are manipulated. Ernest Nister & Sons produced numerous delicately coloured transformation and 'dissolving' books during the 1890s.

Some of the most outstanding 'moveables' were devised in Germany by Lothar Meggendorfer, whose ingeniously animated, vivid and humorous characters were popular throughout Europe. The success of his books led him to plead gently: "But still they are of paper made,/ And therefore, I advise,/ That care and caution should be paid,/ Lest woe and grief arise" Always Jolly, 1890. This advice is applicable to most children's books, but especially to relatively fragile toybooks. Variety in mechanics, illustration and shape widened the appeal of toybooks. Panoramas presented stories in a broad scope of folding pages, while other books featured edges shaped to outline the characters on the cover.

Drama was a popular pastime in this era of home entertainment. The catchphrase "a penny plain and twopence coloured" advertised drama sheets of scenery, props, and heroes and heroines in dramatic poses. These were printed for older children to create their own small scale toy theatre productions.