Friday, February 13, 2015

Unusual Artifacts: A Rare Antique Sand Toy, 1850-1870

Sand Toy
French, 1850-1870
Gerard Camagni
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This unusual and exceptionally beautiful toy dates between 1850 and 1870 and comes from France. Sand toys are particularly rare—prone to damage from wet weather and their fragile natures.

Sand toys function by the power of falling sand which is distributed through a complicated system of hoppers and paddle wheels which served to “animate” a paper figure within a glass case. Given the nature of the mechanism, sand toys didn’t function very well except in extremely dry weather. They were very often broken from the shaking of frustrated children who wanted to mechanism to work in all conditions.

This exquisite toy of glass, paper and wood is intricately decorated and features a figure of a woman in Eighteenth Century dress. Upon the release of the sand, she dances within her glass case.

Remarkably undamaged, this beautiful antique is part of the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum.

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