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Here are some fun masks that are a bit more jovial than the medical ones we’ve all been using lately.

The history behind the masks

These half-face character masks were created by the London publishing house Raphael Tuck and Sons Ltd. (est. 1866), a Prussian migrant family whose business sold framed pictures, greeting cards, and most famously, postcards. The character masks they sold would have been worn for masquerade balls, costume parties, theatre productions, music hall performances, carnivals, Hallowe'en, and other holiday and seasonal events. The masks depict characters from children’s stories, literature, popular songs, and the theatre that were well known at the time.  

Whilst the masks were designed in London, they were most probably printed in Germany for the superior quality paper, printing standards and effects. Usually, the masks were worn only once, then perhaps put away as a keepsake or thrown away. They were intended for adults, but they certainly attracted the attention of younger folks who collected up the discarded masks and played with them. Because of this disposable aspect, very few have survived.

Raphael Tuck and Sons was a long-running, successful company, with a Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria and endorsement by well-to-do American society. The publisher never fully recovered from the destruction of the company house and precious originals during the London Blitz of World War II, and eventually closed in 1959. The contribution of their many skilled artists, photographers, engravers, and printers left an enduring legacy in the commercial art sector.

This set of half-face character masks had originally belonged to an English Great Aunt and Uncle of the donor and had been purchased new in the 1890s. Whilst the donor and his sisters were always aware of the masks being in their own family house as children, and they liked to look at them, they did not actually play with them. In 2020, they donated the set to the Children’s Literature Research Collection of the State Library, adding to the large collection of historical toys, games, and books available for research.

These 1890s works are out of copyright.

Have a play

The following nine half-masks, made by the Raphael House of London, depicting characters from 1890’s children's stories, literature, popular songs, and the theatre, were intended for use as party attire. 

We have reproduced the following masks for you to have a play with. If you prefer, we have also provided the masks to download, print, and cut so that you can wear them!

Try out the camera effect via Facebook or Instagram and post a photo or video to your socials.

Don’t forget to tag: #slsa #sparkar #cameraeffects #vintagemasks #raphaeltuck 

Written by Denise Chapman, Curator, Access and Engagement
Camera effects created by Laura Wolfe, Digital Engagement Coordinator

About the publication

Catalogue record link:

Reference: Lambourne, Lionel. Madame Tussaud's book of Victorian masks, Exeter, Devon : Webb & Bower [in association with] Michael Joseph, 1987