United States: ca. 1860? Original hand-made rolling paper toy theater comprised of a wooden and glass box (ca. 25x17x15cm) standing at 24cm on four small wooden legs, two wooden pegs inserted through holes in lid, front panel made of glass; the whole (save glass panel) plastered with the remnants of paste paper and floral wallpaper; box contains roll of lined paper measuring approx. 500cm (constructed by pasting smaller pieces together) depicting thirty-nine (39) hand-drawn and -colored illustrations; each end of roll mounted to wooden peg so that wooden pegs, when turned, move the roll from one image to the next. Box paper covering partly perished and internal roll soiled to a few panels (evidence of the creator having used scrap paper to construct this machine?), else a Very Good, quite remarkable survival. Item #1649
Fascinating relic from the rise in the popularity of the toy theater in Great Britain and the United States during the nineteenth century. Most examples that survive were mass-produced while still requiring some assembly by the consumer, though this example is entirely handmade from often crude and second-hand elements, including, arguably, the scroll paper. Going back even further than the contemporary fad for toy theaters, this example also borrows from "emakimono," the Japanese art of horizontal narrative painted scrolls, first introduced in the eighth century CE and itself inspired by its even more ancient Chinese equivalent.
The creator of this example almost certainly a child or young adult based on the quality of the hand-writing and illustrations. The thirty-nine images provide no simple narrative, but rather are divided by themes. The first (or last, depending on which way you scroll) twenty-two examples appear to have been copied from political cartoons and illustrations, complete with captions. Several of these pertain to election day, including "Before Election," depicting a dapper man in his waistcoat leaning against his mantlepiece reading the "N.Y. Times"; "Starting out to vote," showing the voter in league with another man selling gin; "Wich one shal I vote for?" showing the voter surrounded by three other men all captioned "Me" and, below this, "I won't do it." Later images showing the ballot box haunted by a long blue snake, a popular image from the 1860 election when the threat of secession loomed. Other cartoons appear unrelated to suffrage but rather to man-woman relations ("Come on with them hoops!" shows a woman followed by a hoop-bearing man; "O gracious I lost my wig!" shows a woman bending to pick up her fallen hair piece as her male companion looks on).
The later seventeen images stray from the political and societal to the bucolic, seamlessly transitioning with realistic portraits of an elephant and donkey, followed by a bear, a racoon, and an owl. A sequence of song birds rolls into a scene of a man being pulled in a sled by a domesticated reindeer, whom we see being unharnessed and milked in the next scene. The final batch of illustrations show a man in a cart with three large wooden kegs being pulled by a team of two bulls, a horse-drawn covered wagon with a dog in tow, people on horseback, and, finally, a hill-side village. Sometimes a scroll does not need a narrative to tell a story.