Biographical/historical: Toy theatres were a popular English children's toy in the first half of the19th century. Many publishing houses were involved in printing engraved sheets depicting the prinicipal characters and scenery of current plays. The characters could be cut out and mounted on pasteboard and attached to sticks for performances in front of the scenery. The sheets came as penny plains that could be colored at home or as twopence coloured, already colored. The theatres themselves were made of card and fit on a table top. Scripts, condensed and adapted for children, were produced to be used with the theatres. Popular titles included Aladdin, Black-Eyed Susan, Blue Beard, Cinderella, Forty Thieves, Hamlet, Macbeth, The Maid and the Magpie, The Miller and His Men, Richard the Third, Sleeping Beauty, Timour the Tartar, Uncle Tom's Cabinand various harlequin tales. With the late 19th century rise of a more realistic theatre deemed less suitable as entertainment for children as well as the increase in illustrated journals, the publishing of toy theatres declined.
Content: Collection is primarily sheets for toy theatres consisting of scenery, characters and wings, both colored and uncolored. Some sheets are still threaded together into booklets showing they were sold as sets. A few characters and wings have already been cut out. The sheets are mainly 1814-1832 or undated, with the exception of Green who published his prints from 1833-1857 and Mathews who published from 1886 to1895. The collection is particularly strong in the work of the publishing firms of Green, Hodgson, Pollock, Redington, Skelt, Webb and West. The collection also includes published booklets of the juvenile drama used with toy theatres.