Apes on a Horse and More Toys from the Void
A holiday treat (post first ran 12/24/2009) courtesy of Children's Toys of Bygone Days: A History of Playthings of All Peoples from Prehistoric Times to the XIXth Century by Karl Grober, English version by Philip Hereford. London, 1928.
Apes on a Horse. A Paper Toy. From an Ulm woodcut of 1470
"An Ulm engraving of the year 1470 displays a horse and two apes joined together in the middle by a bar and fastened to the back of the horse by a pin. When placed on a stove the heat made the apes swing to and fro."
"Figures made to move by means of living birds"
"Toys have in general kept clear of aberrations.... [yeah right]. Well into the nineteenth century it was the custom in Italy to tie a string to the leg of living birds or big cockchafers and give them to children to play with. The custom was so universal that we even see such living playthings represented in the hands of the Christ Child, especially in pictures of the Italian Renaissance. A curious example of a similar kind was to be found among the usually so simple and harmless German toys, as a Nuremberg catalog of the eighteenth century proves [above]. These were comic figures with space inside to hold a bird which in its struggles gives to the figures all kind of motions. As the catalog says: 'No one would imagine that a living bird was inside, but would suppose that it was clock-work which made the head, eyes, and beak of the bird move.'"
Guillotine, toy of the time of the French revolution, ca. 1794
"The worst monstrosity of the kind was the outcome of the French Revolution, which indeed was over-rich in aberrations of taste. The toy shops put on the market little guillotines with which little patriots could behead figures of aristocrats. There still survive some specimens of this pretty and diverting machine, of which one bears the date 1794 [above]. These were not models but pure toys; and in proof of this we have king's evidence from one whom we should never suspect of wishing to give so bloodthirsty a toy to his little son. This was no other than Goethe. In December, 1793, he asks his mother in Frankfurt to get him such a toy guillotine for his son August; and in her reply he certainly got some home-truths. In her decisive manner she wrote to him by return post: 'Dear Son, Anything I can do to please you is gladly done and gives me joy;--but to buy such an infamous implement of murder--that I will not do at any price. If I had authority, the maker should be put in the stocks and I would have the machine publicly burnt by the common executioner. What! Let the young play with anything so horrible,--place in their hands for their diversion murder and blood-shedding? No, that will never do!"
Now I want a toy electric chair for Christmas.