Archive for July, 2011

Open House Miniatures - Theater Bildersbuch, single scene nativity, Adoration of the Magi

These miniature pop-up books were inspired by a copy of the Theater Bilderbuch in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

In my version, each 12th scale little book measures just over 1 inch (2.5cm) wide by 1 and 2/8th inches (3.2cm) long – when closed.

They are constructed exactly as a full-size pop-up book would be and have paper bound board covers.

When open, one of the four scenes that was contained in the original Theater Bilderbuch is revealed – plus some tiny text from the featured play. This is in German and most of of it is only legible to dolls’ house inhabitants.

These are the smallest of the theatres that I make and, as they are self-contained, with no characters or scenery to lose, they are very popular.

As the spine is reinforced and, as the glue I use has a  ‘memory’, they need to be held open (for a very short while) in order to ‘remember’ to remain open.

The four titles in the series are:

  • Red Riding Hood
  • Hansel and Gretel (being chased by a bear – no witch in sight)
  • The Adoration of the Magi – a nativity scene
  • Christmas Eve

NB I find these almost impossible to photograph and the orchestra always looks huge !

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These are not “toys” – they are “collector’s” items.

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Once upon a time, in Germany, a very inventive person designed a book that opened up to reveal four theatre scenes.

Theater Buildbuch - from the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London

  • Little Red Riding Hood meeting the Wolf in the wood
  • Hansel and Gretel (being chased across a river by an amazing bear)
  • The Adoration of the Magi
  • Christmas Eve.

Each scene is set out on a stage and is accompanied by a piece of play dialogue (printed in German).

It is a wonderful thing and I would like one for Christmas, please.

An original one, as the new reprint takes all sorts of liberties with scale and construction…

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Moved by the spirit of curiosity, I had a quick go at making a scale copy of the reprint.

It worked  well – considering it was a late in to the night, I have some spare paper to use up, how does this thing go together – ??? sort of effort.

miniature copy of the modern theater bilderbuch

Looking at it again this morning made me realise how small differences can change the overall ‘feel’ of something.

The two, very visible things, that make the most difference for me are:

  • The original has a nice little extra bit of height at the top of the proscenium – and this helps to hide the text from the previous play and gives a feeling of  ‘theatre’ rather than pop-up book
  • and the orchestra is a great deal larger than in the reprint – and this give a much greater feeling of depth

So, I think I will persevere with the original, not so easy to fold and stick version…

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The complete book, 4 scenes in one volume, takes a great deal of time to make (properly) and is consequently pricey.

As a slightly cheaper alternative, I also make single books that hold just one scene – and this is what I am making in these photos.

These are very neat to display in a dolls’ house and relatively inexpensive.

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Victorian Toy Theatre

Open_House_Miniatures_Victorian_Toy_Theatre_ Cinderella_and_the_Prince_dancing

This miniature toy theatre has been recreated from a handpainted original and is made, as the original would have been, from thick paper/thin card which is ingeniously cut and folded to make a surprisingly robust, 3 dimensional structure.

The theatre stage measures 1 5/8 inches wide (42mm) x 1 inch (25mm) deep x 1 7/8 inches (47mm) tall (the proscenium is relatively tall).

It comes with a set of 7 scenes,  5 pairs of side wings, a coach, a fountain, a kitchen table and 28 characters/sets of characters for the play Cinderella.

The set is very nearly complete, but one set of wings was missing and so I duplicated the one that I had in order to make a matching pair.


Other ‘cheats”…

The triangular pediment, and the bust of Shakespeare that fits on to it, were originally three pieces that were glued together – in this version they are one piece and have been resized to fit the top of the proscenium more exactly than they did in the original.

The weakest part of these sets was always the side wings. It is a design fault that I find maddening and I have strengthened the side wings  with an extra strip of card and they are no longer nearly as bendy as they should be (!), but they are still the most fragile part of the theatre.

I have omitted the ‘trick’ items as they are too small to be used at this size.


A little bit of history and credit where it is due –

Theatres were very popular toys for a great part of the 19th Century and they came in all shapes and sizes. This reproduction is slightly larger than 12th scale, but it is still of a typical size.

This miniature example is based on one originally published by H. Mathews of Acton, Middlesex – sometime in the last 20 years of the 19th Century – and it comes with a set of scenes, side wings and characters originally published by B. Pollock, 73 Hoxton Street, Hoxton (London) and these,  from the address, it can be dated to circa 1876.

The scenes and characters were originally published in October 1844 by John Kilby Green and the theatre is very similar in design to one that was created by him too.

The folded card structure for the theatre is courtesy of an example in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The box is completely my own invention – these sets did not (as far as I know) ever come boxed – and it features part of a page from the character set by Mr B. Pollock and reproduction antique marbled paper.

The box makes a very useful stand for the stage.


The characters are mounted on paper bases and ‘sliders’ made of florist’s wire – this is not a ‘toy’, it is a ‘collector’s item’

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It used to worry me when people asked me if a handmade miniature item was a limited edition and then look disappointed when I said, “No”.

I finally came to the conclusion that, as there is a seemingly unlimited supply of Barbie dolls and Lego – not to mention Chinese manufactured miniatures – available, most of us have become used to the manufactured world in which we live and no longer realise that it actually takes time to make something by hand.

Think about it for a moment… there are 24 hours in a day, during which time the average person needs to sleep, eat, cook, shop, clean themselves and their home and earn a living.

Take me for example – I can, on a good day, work for 6 hours actually making something and will spend another 4 hours in thinking, researching and testing  ideas… I will also have to find time to do accounts, go to the post office and order supplies etc…

Not much time left for anything else is there?

This week I made three theatres and I timed the process and then worked out how long it would take me to make one – which gives me a guideline as to how much I me going to have to charge for an item.

Now I knew these were complicated, but even I was surprised at the effort involved –

  • 3 hours to cut out the (far too many) characters and mount them on card and wire
  • 1 hour to cut out, reinforce and assemble the (10) wings – and check fit
  • 1 hour to make the box (it is a NICE box) and cut out the (7 pieces) of background scenery – and check fit
  • Approximately 2 and a half hours to cut out and make up the theatre – not counting drying time and there is a great deal of drying time involved
  • Plus printing time – and it does take time to switch on the computer, find files and print

It therefore take approximately 1 day to make 1 theatre (working non-stop).

So if I worked non-stop for a year I could, in theory, make 365 and if I worked for 10 years (non-stop) that would be 3,650 theatres…

…and this is not going to happen…


Limited Edition, no – Limited Numbers, yes.

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As a matter of interest the miniature version of this Victorian toy theatre started out with the same faults as the original would have had –

  • The pediment was a bit to small for the top of the proscenium – I resized it and then learned that Mr Pollock had done exactly the same thing when he issued his own reprints of the original theatres
  • The side wings always bent in full-size real life – it was the way they were constructed – and they bent in miniature too ( I wondered if they would as card can be incredibly tough in short lengths) – and although I have added a strengthening bar, they are still the most fragile part of the set.

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I couldn’t find the wood that I was looking for in the attic, so I thought the one sure way to make it turn up was to buy some more.

The Jelutong that I use for the stage/base of the theatre has always come from Borecraft Miniatures.

Among other things, they supply all sorts of turned items, like table legs, as well as miniature mouldings and strip wood of various types.

All their things are of reliable high quality – and on top of that they are such nice, sensible, helpful people – and so I went straight to my saved page of their online shop and placed an order.

It was only after I had placed the order, that I thought to look at their home page and there I learned that Alan Borwell had died at the beginning of the year.

He will be a very great loss and so will Borecraft Miniatures as a whole.

I have saved some of their website pages here as a memorial.

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Borecraft 12thcatalogue

Borecraft 24thcatalogue

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More Ancient History

In theory, I am supposed to be making theatres next week.

First, however, I have to find the right things to make them with.

After an exhaustive search of the attic I have found the ultra- fine, Russian marine ply (that is apparently used for making full-size kayaks), but not the pine strips that are necessary for the rest of the structure – and without which there is, basically, no theatre.

I did find a box of sample houses that I had packed away at least 8 years ago and I was surprised at how crude some of them were. Memory plays some funny tricks, I remember them quite differently and would make them differently today.

They also reminded me of how surprised I was at the national differences between collectors. For example, there is very little tradition of room settings in this country and I never sold a hat shop in the UK – except to K******, who said, ‘Well, someone will like it’ – and was not very happy when it was bought by a German lady the following week.

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I also found an old tiger skin rug that I had made years ago – I wonder if I would get lynched if I was to try selling these today?

Would I have to add all sorts of disclaimers?

I do not endorse the turning of tigers in to rugs!

This miniature is NOT made from real tiger skin!

Maybe I should be more positive – Save a tiger, buy a fake instead!

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Ancient History

The other day I found one of my old receipt/account books (dating from 1989) and one of the entries was, cryptically, for “Stat Things”.

There were a variety of “Stat Things” that I used to make, but the particular “Stat Thing” to which this entry referred (I had drawn myself a picture!) was a Stationery Box, full to overflowing with paper and cards.

I used to enjoy making these and I was rather proud of them.

They were completely my own invention and I used a special plastic  stencil to mark out the various pieces – this was BEFORE I even dreamed of owning a COMPUTER.

Then one day I went to a dolls’ house fair and there were my “Stat Things” – very badly made with glue leaking from every joint and crammed with badly folded, badly cut cards and letters.

What did I do when I saw them?

Well to tell the truth, I did not know what to do. The stall holder was a very glum looking lady who eyed me with deep suspicion when she saw me staring (there were no other customers looking at her stall), so I walked on and didn’t say anything.

Goodness knows how many people bought one of those creations and I still feel baffled (and irritated) that anyone should go to the trouble of copying something, do it so badly, and then foist it on the unsuspecting world as their own work.

So here, to set the record straight is what some of my basic “Stat Things” look like.

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I used to use dolls’ house wallpaper to cover the basic shapes but these days, thanks to computer wizardry, I have been able to develop a collection of papers copied from 18th and 19th Century samples – and these are very much harder for others to copy!

However, as I find it impossible to make two the same, they very seldom appear on the internet (too much time/trouble involved to take good photographs for every single one) and are only to be found in a select few shops.

NB If something is worth the effort of copying, it is worth the effort of copying NICELY.

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