Toy Theatres

Toy theatres, made from paper and mounted on wood or board were a popular form of entertainment in Europe from about 1811. Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, Charlie Chaplin and Winston Churchill all enjoyed staging a play in a miniature theatre.

The toy theatre has experienced a remarkable revival in recent years. Every year in Germany there is an International Paper Theatre Festival, which attracts participants from all over the world. There is also an annual festival in New York. The biggest museum of toy theatres is in Sweden and original toy theatre producers such as Pollocks are still trading in England.

Toy theatres were made from pre-printed pieces to be assembled at home.  Toy shops would offer ‘penny plain’ scenery and character sheets to be coloured at home, or ‘tuppence coloured’ ready finished sheets costings, one or two pennies each.  Often, the toy theatres reproduced real life theatres and their plays.

There were about a hundred publishers of theatres and plays and two of these, Pollocks in London and Priors in Denmark, are still publishing today.  The Danish miniature theatre Playwright, Alfred Jacobsen, based many of his plays on the stories of Hans Christian Anderson.  Many of Jacobsen’s original plays are available today as reprints from Piors and other outlets.  With the rise of cinema  interest in toy theatres started to drop off.

A collection of toy theatres dating from the late 19th to mid 20th century was recently sold at Sothebys’s for over £2,000 and included ornate Regency and Victorian style theatres, correct in every detail.  Some had velvet curtains that could be raised, others had candle footlights or a curved orchestra pit.

If you want to start collecting toy theatres and accessories old, penny plain, uncoloured versions of scenery and character sheets are particularly desirable.  The internet is a good place to find information and purchase toy theatres.  Join a network of enthusiasts for ideas and swapping of pieces

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