Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Art of Play: A German Mechanical Dancing Toy, 1865-75

Mechanical Dancing Toy
The Victoria & Albert Museum
A colorfully-dressed couple dances around an opulent setting—this was the stuff of the upper-classes and was out of reach for most people, especially children. So, imagine a child’s face as he or she gazed at this magnificent mechanical toy which was made in Germany between 1865 and 1875. Sadly, most children would never have had a chance to see this toy. This was made as a conversation piece for wealthy Nineteenth-Century men and women who already had access to such events. Automata such as this were made in contrast to the novelty pieces which glutted the limited market. This was the elegant answer to all of the smoking monkeys and laughing urchins.

The mechanical figures are housed in a box of polished wood with a glass panel at the front. The while of the box is surrounded by a carved, gilt frame. The brass clockwork mechanism which operates the figures as well as the music box is activated by releasing the control switch after winding with an iron key.

The scene of a three-sided ballroom is adorned with mirrored walls and a red cloth curtain, and is trimmed with gold metallic paper. Across the front top is a band of similar cloth. The floor is of printed paper over wood, showing birds, trees,, flowers and fruit and a lead chandelier is suspended from the top. At some point later, two electric lights were added.

The figures are two bisque German dolls with blonde wigs. The woman wears a purple jacket trimmed with gold, a cream skirt covered with black lace, and black lace attached to the top of the head. The man wears a purple jacket with green and gold trim, green breeches and a green cap which extends to a long point at the back, decorated with gold trim and a gold and purple tassel.

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