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Monday, February 25, 1850
I continue my inquiries among the Toy-makers. In my last
Letter I dealt chiefly with the makers of playthings for the children of the
poor. In the present one I purpose dealing with those who manufacture the
superior description of articles, such as are seen principally in the arcades
One among those whom I visited was a celebrated publisher of penny theatrical characters and maker of toy theatres. He is the person to whom the children of the present generation are indebted for the invention. I found him confined to his room with asthma. He sat in a huge armchair, embedded in blankets, with a white night-cap on his head. He evidently was very proud of having been the original inventor of the toy theatres, and he would insist upon presenting me with the earliest prints in connection with the mimic stage. He was a little spare man whose clothes hung loose about him.
"I am a maker of children's theatres, and a theatrical print publisher. I have been in the line ever since 1811. The first time I began to publish anything of the kind was when the pantomime of Mother Goose was performing. I was the first in the line. I think I had the business all to myself for two years. Mrs. J-, who lived in Duke's-court, Bow-street, took to it after that. She sold my prints at first, and then she began to print and publish for herself. Now, I think, there's about six in the line. I was originally in the circulating library and haberdashery line. My mother was in the haberdashery way, and I continued it. We had a glass case of toys as well, and among the toys we sold children's halfpenny lottery prints - common things that were done in those days, sir. Well, you see, my parents used to be at Covent-garden Theatre, and I took it in my head to have a print done of Mother Goose. I can show you the old original print by me. You shall see, sir, the first theatrical print ever published. (He here produced a bundle of impressions.) He's the third cheap theatrical print ever published. It's numbered up here, you see - but I brought em out so fast after that I left off numbering them very soon. I brought out one a day for three years. The print consisted of eight characters in as many separate compartments. The first was the elder Grimaldi as Clown, the second Bologna as Harlequin, the third was the Columbine of that day. Oh dear," said the publisher, "what was her name? - she was a werry excellent Columbine at Covent-garden Theatre." The other compartments were filled with other characters in the piece. "You'll see, sir," continued the old man, "there's a line of foolish poetry under each of the characters. I made it myself to please the children. It runs:-
The Clown, Joe Grim,
John Bologna, the Harlequin;
Gay and merry Columbine,
With her lover, Spaniard fine;
Demon of Interest, fiend of gold,
Don Alvaro very old;
A poor Chinese man,
And Mr. Raymond, as Magician.'
The first theatrical print published was not very different from the third in the character of its art or poetical descriptions. There was, however, a spirit and freedom of touch about the execution that was far superior to what might have been expected.
The lines under the eight distinct characters were as follows: -
The golden egg and Mother Goose-
Prime, bang-up, and no abuse.
Here's Harlequin as feather light,
And Zany's antics to please you with delight;
Here's Mr. Punch you plainly see,
And Joan, his wife, both full of glee.
In woman's habits does Harlequin
Deceive the clown, by name Joe Grim.'
"I brought out this print you'll understand, to please the children. The lottery things was so bad, and sold so well, that the idea struck me that something theatrical would sell. And so it did - went like wildfire among the young folks. Shopkeepers came to me far and near for em. Bad as the drawing of these here is, I can assure you it was a great adwance on the children's halfpenny lotteries. These two figures here in the corner, you see, a'n't so bad, but they're nothing to what we do now. This plate was done by a Prentice of the name of Green, who worked at Mr. Simkin's, an engraver in Denmark-court. He used to do them in his overtime. He was obliged to have something to look at to copy. He was no draughtsman himself, you know. This here picture of Mother Goose he took from a large print of Mr. Simmonds in that there character published by Ackennan, and sold in Covent-garden at 2s. 6d. plain, and 5s. coloured; the others was all copied from large prints of the clay. I dare say I sold right off as many as 5,000. It was printed many times over, and every edition I know was a thousand. We don't do so many now. It was sold at a penny plain, and twopence coloured. You had better take that there impression with you. It's a curiosity, and abit of the history of one's country - yes, that it is, sir. Why it's 39 years ago. I think I must have been about 24 when it was published - I'm 63 in June. The success of the theatrical prints was so great, I was obliged to get three presses to print them fast enough. I brought out a new one every day, as I told you before. We only did the characters in the pantomime at Christmas time. The small ones wasn't likenesses - they was merely characters to give the costumes. We didn't make likenesses till very late. The wardrobe people at the minor theatres and masquerade people used to buy a great many to make their dresses from. Young Green only did me two plates. He was such a bad draughtsman he couldn't do anything without a copy, and I was forced to get permission of the better printsellers for all he did. I gave Green 30s. or £2 for each plate he did for me. He was very dear, cause he was so slow over the engravings. Well, I think I had done about seven prints - they were bad-uns - only copies, and badly done too - all by apprentices, when Mr. Hashley, of the Hamphitheayter, sent young with a drawing to show me. It was uncommon well done; oh, such a beautiful picture! he got on to be one of the first-rate artists arterwards, and drawed half-crown caricatures; he did all the battle-pieces of them times - all Bonaparte's battles and Nelson's shipping. Well I gave him an order directly for the whole of the characters in the Blood Red Knight, wot Hashley was performing at that time. I can show you the print on it - you must see it, for it was a great adwance in my purfession, sir. I should like you to look at it, sir, cause I considers it as a matter of history like." He here brought out another brown parcel of prints. "Look here, sir," he said, as he turned over the impressions - "here's one of the stage fronts we do now - it's only part of it, you'll understand. It's done by a real architectural designer - but he's dead too: I suppose I shall go next.- -did this here stage-front of Drury-lane as it was after the fire; and he did Covent-garden for me as well, but he wasn't good at architect. This here, sir, was the first stage front we begun to make. It's the large impression; we had a small one out as well. The date, you see, is 1812- and it wasn't quite a year after I published my first print. Igot liberty from the master carpenter to go and make the drawing of the front as soon as ever it was up after the fire. This here print," he continued as he turned over the different copies before him, "was done for me by a Royal Academician of the name of Mr. ---; it's Ducrow in the scene of 'the Ingun and the Vild Oss.' You see, sir, Mr. Ducrow paid for it being done by my man, and guv it away on his benefit night, and I had the plate of him afterwards. This is a late production, so you can see the improvement, There's the first plate --- did for me. It's the principal characters in The Lady of the Lake, as produced at the Surrey, and a great advance you see it is on the others. After that he did the Blood-red Knight. Here's one of his first prints of osses. It's Baghranho, as first performed at Hashley's. Here's the first battle he ever drew. He did it unbeknown tome on a copper of mine, thinking I would like it; but it was quite out of my line. It was that there as got him all J---s battles to do. He showed it to him, and J--- guv him an order directly. After that he had ten pound a week from J---,and ten pounds a week from me too. He had 30s. a plate, and never did less than six in the week; and for the larger ones he had more. I found the copper. Why, I used to pay my coppersmith £70 and £80 a year for plates only, ---- , the artist and scene painter, did a great many for me, and he was the only one as turned out grateful to me. All the others got such great men they wouldn't look on me. At first, you see, we didn't do any but the principal characters in a piece, cause we didn't think of making theayters then, and went on as we begun for two years. After that we was asked by the customers for theayters to put the characters in, so I got up the print of a stage front, thinking that the customers would get the woodwork done themselves. But after the stage front they wanted the theayters themselves of me more than ever, so I got some made, and then the demand got so great that I was obliged to keep three carpenters to make em for me. One was a horgan builder and could make anything in machinery. I turned out the first toy theayter for children as ever was got up for sale, and that was in the year 1813. You see my father was the under property-man at Covent Garden Theatre, and I had a sister a dancer there, and another sister belonging to the fruit-office in the boxes - so we was all theatrical; and when I was about seven years old, I got my father's prentice in the shop to make me a wooden theayter - he was uncommon clever at carpenter work, and the painters and carpenters of Covent Garden used to come and see it when we exhibited in our one-pair back three times a week. We used to charge 2d. a piece. It was thought a great thing in those days; and so many people used to come and see it, that father and mother wouldn't allow it after a time; so it was put up as a raffle, and it was won by a young man, who took it with him to Scotland. It was that as gave me the hidea of making toy theayters for sale. After I made a few I was hobligated to make scenery, and to do the sets of characters complete. Nobody but me made toy theayters for a long while; nor did they do the scenery. One man used to do three dozen theayters a week; and another man did me a dozen more of the small. The larger theayters took longer time, and I don't think I made more than a dozen of them in a year. I used to make, I think, about fifty toy theayters a week. I always had a room full of them upstairs, except at Christmas, when we couldn't turn them out fast enough. I think I must have sold about 2,500 every year of em. Some theayters I made came to as much as £20 a piece. I have made about four of them, I think, in my lifetime. They was fitted up with very handsome fronts - generally 'liptic harch fronts, built all out of wood, with ornaments all over it - and they had machinery to move the side wings on and off; lamps in front, to rise and fall with machinery; and side lamps to turn on and off to darken the stage, and trick sliders to work the characters on and change the pantomime tricks; then there was machinery to make the borders rise and fail as well, and cut traps to open for the scenery to go up and down through the stage. 'The Miller and his Men' has sold better than any other play lever published. I wore out a whole set of copper plates of that there. I must have sold at least five thousand of that play, all complete. It's the last scene, with the grand explosion of the mill, as pleases the young uns, uncommon. Some of em greases the last scene with butter - that gives a werry good effect with a light behind; but warnish is best, I can't abear butter. Some of them explosions we has made in wood work, and so arranged that the mill can fly to pieces; they comes to about 4s. 6d. apiece. The next most taking play out of my shop has been 'Blue Beard'. That the boys like for the purcession over the mountains - a coming to take Fatima away - and then ere's the blue chamber with the skelingtons in it - that's werry good too - and has an uncommon pretty effect with a little blue fire, though it in general sets all the haudience a sneezing. The next best arter that was the Forty Thieves' - they likes that there, for the fairy grotto and the scenery is werry pretty throughout. Then again, the story pleases the children uncommon - it's a werry good one I call it. I'll give you the date of the first likeness as ever I did; I've got it here handy, and I should like you to see it, and have it all correct, cause you see, as I said before, it's a matter of history, like. Here's all my large portraits - there's 111 of them. This here's one of ---. It's Liston, as MoIl Flaggon, you see. That there one is done by Mr. ---, the royal academician. It's Mr. H. Johnston as Glaffer. I think the part was in a tragedy called the 'Hillusion.' That was the werry first portrait as I published. Here's one by ---, done about the same time. That's Mrs. Egerton, as Hellen Macgregor. The portraits I have just been showing you are 2d. plain, and 4d. coloured - but they don't sell now, the penny has quite knocked them up. Then there's other people wot makes as low as a halfpenny, but they a'n't like the performance at all. You see the cheap shops makes up the dresses with silk, and tinsel, and foil, but I never did. My customers used to do some; but, to my mind, it spoilt the figures, and took away all the good drawing from em. Formerly they used to cut out the parts of the figures, and stick pieces of silk, and tinsel, and lace behind them. Then the boys used to make all their own dots and ornaments themselves; and I used to sell punches expressly for doing em, and arter that I sold the ornaments themselves. Now the ornaments are sold in large quantities by these halfpenny printsellers. They are punched out by children I think - they make them as low as a halfpenny a packet. I haven't published anew set of characters for this seven year. You see they began to make halfpenny plates - they used to copy my penny ones and sell em at half-price, so I thought it high time to give over. I had come down in my large portraits from 2d. to ld.,and I wasn't going to reduce to halfpenny - not I. It seemed like lowering the purfession to me - besides, the theaytres themselves couldn't makeado of it, sol gave over publishing. The decline of the drama is hawful, and it's just the same with the toy theaytres as it is with the real ones." (He then showed me his books. They were all indexed alphabetically. First came the small characters under A - "Aladdin;" then came those in B -"Blue Beard," "Battle of Waterloo" (of this nearly 10,000 had been printed), and "Bottle Imp;" under C were "Comus" and "Coriolanus;" under F was the "Forty Thieves;" under H "the Highmettled Racer," "Hamlet," and "Harlequin Brilliant;" under I came "Ivanhoe;" under M the "Miller and his Men," "Maid and the Magpie," "Montrose," and "Midsummer Night's Dream; under O was the "Old Oak Chest" and "Olympic Revels;" under R, "Robinson Crusoe" and "Rob Roy;" and under T, "Timour the Tartar." Then came the index of the scenes in the same plays, arranged in a similar manner, with the number of impressions attached.
I remarked that he had printed a great many portraits of Mr. Bradley? He said that gentleman was such a great favourite with the children - he made himself up so murderous looking - and then he was such a fine swordsman with T. P. Cooke, you'd think they were going to kill one another. It was quite beautiful to see em - people used to go on purpose. He told me he had printed more portraits of Huntley, Bradley, and Blanchard, than of any other members of the theatrical profession - with the exception of Kean in Richard. He hadn't done anything particular with the others. He had made upwards of 1,000 pantomime tricks. He was fond of doing them for the children. Now he has scarcely any call at all for them. This Christmas had been a little better - he didn't know why. He showed me also an account of the expense of making a toy theatre that he had made to be sent out to Australia. It was for the children of the Chief Judge there. He had made two for the same party. The second was the best, and came to £16 12s. 6½d. He told me that his receipts used to be in his best time as much as £30 a week for theatres and penny and twopenny plates of characters only. Now he only takes about 3s. 6d. or 4s. 6d. a day, or from £1 to £1 5s. a week.
I now give the statement of a man employed in the making of rocking-horses for the toy-shops. The place where he worked presented a curious appearance; it was in an off Street from a great thoroughfare. At the door lay the torso of a rocking-horse, discoloured from age, earless and legless, and battered apparently from hard usage. Near it, in startling contrast, was a newly-made horse of dazzling whiteness, placed out to dry. The interior of the workshop was crowded with timber, but on every side the staple of the place was horses, and these in all stages. Horses' trunks, heads, legs, tails, and manes, of all hues and sizes, huddled on the floor, piled on the shelves, or swinging from the ceiling; horses in the rough, and horses awaiting the last polish - for the rocking-horse makers make also all the smaller quadrupeds demanded in the trade. The latter, after the block has been prepared, are shaped with a sharp knife, like an ordinary pocket-knife, used very quickly. The workman at one cut makes precisely the incision or curvature he requires. The body is of pine, and the head and legs (generally) of beech. My informant remembered no change in the fashion of rocking- horses. He thus described the manufacture: -
"The first process is to take a pine plank, and form it, by jointing and glueing it, into a block. It used to be made out of solid timber, old 'girters' (beams of houses pulled down), or ship masts. The jointing is the better process. The block prepared is reduced by the drawing-knife and the plane (a chopper is used only when solid timber is worked), to the shape of the horse's body. It is then what we call bevilled and morticed, to make the holes into which the legs of the horse are placed. This manufacture, I assure you, requires considerable art, the eye being almost the only guide. We make the body by measurement - the formation and proportion of the several parts is made entirely by eye. The head is shaped out of solid wood (pine), after a pattern cut out of strong pasteboard or thick plank, but we have merely the outline supplied by the pattern; what may be called the anatomy, with the eyes, the nostrils, teeth, and the several parts of the face, are carved out, the skill of the workman being directed, as I have said, altogether by his eye. To make a good head is looked upon as one of the most skilled portions of the workmanship required in the trade. The legs are shaped without pattern, the skill of the workman having again no guide beyond his eye; and the 'tenant' is then cut in the leg - the 'tenant' being a portion of wood left on the top of the leg to be fitted into the mortice hole, made for that end in the body. Next, the head is affixed, being jointed, by a great nicety in adjustment, to the body of the rocking-horse, and then the toy in its rough state is complete. After that it is what we call 'worked off' - that is, each part has to be duly shaped, so that all may be in accordance, head, body, and legs - without that there would be no symmetry. The 'working off' is a four hours' process (taking the average sizes), and very hard work. The first layer of composition is then applied and left to dry, which takes from eight to ten hours. The rasp is then used all over the article, and then another layer of composition is applied, and then a third; this is done to get a smooth, level surface. The last application is rubbed down with glass paper. In these several processes there must be delays, at which the workman goes to other labours. No one can make a single rocking-horse, except at a loss; it's impossible, for half his time he would have to stand idle. The horse is then painted, and the legs are screwed and fitted to the 'rocker,' or frame, which is made before the horse is finished. It is then 'harnessed' - we do the saddler's work ourselves; after that the mane and tail are affixed, and then the rocking-horse is complete, unless glass eyes have to be put into the head, as is often the case. Some gentlemen are very particular about the shape and colour of their rocking-horses. They often say, 'That thing's more fit for the plough than for a parlour' - 'It's a donkey and not a horse' - and suchlike. We divide the horses into two classes, 'gibbers' and 'racers;' a 'gibber' seems to be inclined to 'gib,' a racer is represented as at the very top of his speed. Gibbers have as much call as racers. The good journeyman averages say 18s. a week. At the present time, business is middling. The men are very seldom paid by the job, unless it be something for overtime; the wages are 3s. a day. I only know two women employed in making the harness in all London; they never meddle with the manufacture of the rocking-horse. I think there is not one apprentice to the trade at present. We have no union. I have not found the slightest differences in my trade in consequence of the reduction of duties on foreign toys by the tariff of '42. We make the 'roundabouts' for the fairs; once in five years there is a demand for them. I cannot tell how many rocking-horses may be yearly made in London. Perhaps it may be calculated this way: there are 30 men employed in making rocking-horses, and each man can make two a week. That gives 3,120 a year; but as we are employed in making horses of all kinds, as well as rocking horses, you may reduce the number by one-half, yes I think 1,500 may be about the mark.
The statement I now publish is that of a man whose room presented an accumulation of materials - paper, paste, wires, gilding, wood, pasteboard, leather, and other things, mixed up with instruments for nice admeasurement. The fancy toy maker's appearance was that of a hearty, jovial man, and I was referred to him as being a workman alike humorous, trustworthy, and intelligent. He said: -
"I am a fancy toy maker. Fancy toys are mechanical and moving toys. To describe the whole would tire you. I invent them, all that I make, even to the casting line. I can go from the clay of the model to the perfect toy. I make the model. I model the toy myself. These are all my own models." (My informant showed me several. They were remarkable for their nice art and ingenuity.) "I was out on the world" (he continued) "young, and brought up to no business - and so, having confidence in my ingenuity, I took to the toy trade, and have carried it on for 35 years on my own account, working for the warehouses. My toys, though well known in the trade for their ingenuity, are not of great cost, but are chiefly within the reach of the middle classes. They include animals of all descriptions - donkeys, horses, cows, cats, elephants, lions, tigers (I could make giraffes, but they're not in demand), dogs and pigs. Here is a toy of my own invention. This boy is flying a kite, and you see how, by the cranks and wires, the boy appears to advance and the kite takes the air. Here is a boat. These model men fix on here. By movements which I have contrived, they row the boat. I forget many of my inventions; the inventions in my calling are generally made in a slack time, when we have leisure to devote to the subject. It's slack now. Any man going into my trade must have great readiness as well as ingenuity - be quick as well as inventive. A man who hadn't those qualifications would have as good a chance of succeeding in my trade, as a man who wrote badly and spelt worse would have in yours, sir. We are all working men, sir - you'll not be offended by my saying that. I started the figures on the donkeys, and the donkeys had a good run for a good while, and I hope they'll not leave off running for a good while longer, especially if they've good masters on their backs - I mean employers like Mr. G---. The boats with the men rowing in them had as good a run as the donkeys. The donkeys beat, though. There are very curious phrases in my trade. A boy who looked in at my workshop window, said, 'I'm blessed if I know what trade they are, but I heard them talk about cutting off three dozen donkeys' heads.' Donkeys' heads, you see, are made of papier-mache (I was shown a very good specimen), and the head is affixed so as to move - so are the ears, and the tail is too, if demanded. I invented that donkey. The ass is made entire, and then the head is cut off to be refitted, with the faculty of moving. Here's an elephant - he moves his tail as well as his trunk. If I think of inventing a new toy, I often can't sleep from thinking of it. I assure you I have actually dreamed the completion of a new toy - of one that required great thought. I went to bed with the plan working in my brain, and that led to the dream. I talk about it in my sleep. I consider that I am not at all well paid for my labour. No toy-maker is well paid for his mere labour, let alone his ingenuity. I can't state my average earnings, there is such a casualty about the work; it is often a speculation. I have to pay for so many things for my experiments, and for colours and varnishes, that my earnings are really very low. Two pounds a week, do you ask if I make? Not one, sir, though I'm top of the trade. My trade is a sort of individual thing; a man finds he has a turn for it, and so he takes a turn at it. There are no women in the trade that I'm aware of, except a young woman known as the mechanic' for her remarkable taste and ingenuity. The introduction of French toys at a lower rate of duty (in 1842 I think it was) affected my trade. I had far fewer orders after that, and prices fell. I should say it has made fifty per cent. difference to me generally. Many of the inventions or patterns that I have originated have been copied in Germany. Sometimes I get a hint from them, in return for all they borrow, so to call it, from me. They rob me, and I take from them. The fashion in penny toys is very variable; but toys of twenty years back often come into fashion again. It's so with mechanical toys - chiefly such as I make - moving figures. Some things that I invented long ago have recently come into fashion again - the working blacksmiths and sawyers, for instance. They say that 'luck's all;' in my trade 'fancy's all.'
A statement was given to me by a man whose workshop, as he explained had one peculiar characteristic; for copper toys of the better sort - or perhaps, he added, of any sort - it was the workshop of the world. He bears an excellent character, and the appearance of his wife and children was highly creditable to an artisan of his limited means. He worked in a small room on a ground floor, devoted to the purposes of his trade. He said: -
"I have known the trade in copper and brass toys since I was a child. I am only 23, but when I was four or five years old, my father, who was in the trade, and indeed invented it, set me to work to clean the toys off, or punch holes, or do anything I could. We knew nothing but industry, and so were never driven to the streets; but my father might have made a fortune, with steadiness. At present I make chiefly copper tea kettles, coffee-pots, coal- scuttles, warming-pans, and brass scales (toy scales); these are the most run on, but I make besides brass and copper hammers, saucepans, fish kettles, stewpans, and other things. I am now, you see, making copper tea-kettles and saucepans. There are sixteen pieces in one copper tea-kettle - first the handle, which has three pieces, seven pieces in the top and cover (lid), one piece for the side, two in the spout, one for the bottom, and two rivets to fix the handle, in all sixteen. That's the portion of the trade requiring the most art. Copper toys are the hardest work, I consider, of any toy-work. The copper is this dull sheet copper here, eight square feet in a sheet of it. I use generally a four-pound sheet, costing 13d. a pound. I make six dozen tea- kettles out of one sheet. The copper you see must be planished,' that is, polished by hammering it with a steel-faced hammer on a steel-faced head,' four inches square, to make it bright. I make, on the average for the year, eight dozen tea-kettles every week; that is 4,992 a year. I make all that are made in London - yes, in the world. Here's the world's shop, sir, this little place, for copper toys. My father and I (when he worked at the trade) had it all to ourselves; now I have, for my father is on other work. He is now helping to fit up a ship for California, belonging to a gentleman who is going to send out his son to settle there as a bottled-porter merchant. An uncle of mine once did make a few. I make as many scuttles in a week as I do tea- kettles, for I'm always at it, and as many coffee-pots altogether, that's 13,976 teas, scuttles, and coffees. Of the other sorts, I make, I know, as many as I do of teas, coffeepots, and saucepans. They're all fit to boil water in, cook anything you like - every one of them. You can make broth in them. They are made on exactly the same principles as the large kettles, except that they are brazed together, and mine are soft-soldered. Altogether, then, I make 27,952 of copper toys in a year. I sell my copper toys - all sorts, take one thing with another - at 36s. a gross. All my toys are retailed at 6d. each. I think I can earn 20s. a week, if my wife and I work early and late, which we do when we've call, there's so much work in those things. Sometimes we earn only 10s. I calculate it as an average of 15s. the year through. That's but little to keep a wife and two children on - one only just born a month ago last Monday, and another is only just buried. It's little to earn for making all the copper toys, as far as I know, in the world. I think I could do well in New York, where my trade is not known at all. I have all the art of the trade to myself. It was very good once, but now it's come down very bad in this country, and I should like to try another. People here haven't got money for toys; besides, mine last too long; they ought to break quicker. What my father once had 20s. for, I now get 5s. When these toys first came up, an Irish-man cleared £1,400 in five years by selling them in the streets. That's twenty years ago; and he's now thriving in America." "If my husband wasn't steady, good, and careful," said the wife who was present, "my children and I might see the inside of the 'large house.'" "Almost every time I go to the warehouses they say, you must work cheaper; but its not possible if a man must live, and see his family living."
I visited a pewter toy-maker, a man who explained to me that he could account for the bareness of the room in which I saw him (and which was, he said, beyond the cobbler's stall in the song - for it served him for bed-room, and parlour, and work-shop, and kitchen, and all) by too sad a cause. The illness and death of a child, lately buried, had compelled him to part with many of his things. It is not difficult to describe the contents of his room. A bed occupied a sort of recess, and the other contents (I avoid the word "furniture ) of the garret were - pewter. There were trays of bright pewter tea-cups, ready for the final "working off;" trays of tea-pots, and of other articles of the "tea service," which he manufactured. Pewter was everywhere. He had the pale and subdued look which I have often seen in mechanics whose earnings are limited and uncertain. I may add, that he worked for the pewter toy-makers, whose "statistics" (as he called them) I give from him, and he took time and pains to state them with correctness.
"I am a pewter toy-maker," he said, "and make only toys, sets of tea services, such as these I show you, sir, which consist of twenty-three pieces - six cups, six saucers, six spoons, sugar tongs, milk-pot, tea-pot and lid, and sugar basin. I make only tea services, and can make three dozen sets in a day, that is 828 pieces - that's not a few, and that would require ten hours' good work. Each piece is cast in a mould, and I will show you how. Here I sit before the fire, with the melted pewter in this pan on the fire before me. I hold the mould in my hand, and dip my ladle into the melted pewter, and fill the mould with it. The mould, of course, is different for each piece. I often scald my fingers and hands - here is an old burn, and here another. I mix my own pewter - tin, and lead, and spelter. The spelter is to give it a colour. The commonest pewter would not answer my purpose. The mould is all brass, and, when filled with the metal, is at once dipped into water to cool; then the metal is turned out, and it has to be pared and trimmed ready for use afterwards. To make one set by itself would take me full two hours. You may cast a number before you even get the right heat. As it is, I cast one lot by itself - go on casting teapots, and then any of the other parts of the service. As fast as they are cast, I apply this knife as if opening an oyster, and open the mould, and out comes the article. Last year I made, one week with another, six dozen sets a week, or 3,744 in the year, that is 86,112 pieces, reckoning them singly and by the year. I think you'll find that right. The set is retailed at 4½d. and 6d., according to the prices of the shopkeeper. I get 3s. for a dozen sets - sometimes only 2s. 6d. Reckon that I make six dozen sets a week, and that's 18s.; but the material, including coal, costs me nearly 9s. out of that 18s. - so that I have but 9s. for myself. My trade is bad, and is generally bad for awhile after Christmas. I think it's improving. Easter and Whitsuntide are the grand times for us, on account of the fairs. There is another man in the trade who, with the help of eight men he has, can make three gross of tea or dinner services a day. He makes largely for shipping - to America and Ireland principally, where I've heard they're not up to toy-making. I suppose that, one week with another, the year through, he may turn out a gross and half of tea and dinner services. He makes other things, but in the tea services that's 216 sets a week, or 11,016 sets a year, which is - mind, sir, we don't drop a few thousands - 303,358 single pieces a year. There is another worker in pewter toys, or rather a family, who may make half as many as the person with the eight men, so that those two and myself turn out 551,149 pieces in a year - over half a million; as many farthings as it's over, would make me a happy man. I reckon there are twice as many (in pieces) made of the other pewter toys - such as gridirons, fire sets, kitchen sets, carts, horses, omnibuses, steam-engines, soldiers, sailors, drummers, milk-maids, cats and kittens, dogs with baskets in their mouths, shepherds and shepherdesses, and some more. So, if you'll calculate - and it's as near the mark as a man may come, and nearer than it often comes - for I know it all by practice - it comes to 1,102,298 pieces a year in my trade in London - quite within the mark, shepherdesses and all included. I haven't got full work, or anything like it, and can't get. I reckon my earnings lasr year - a clear 9s. a week - to have been less by 3s. than the other workmen in my way. My wife is a reel winder, and she earns as much, or nearly as much, as I do. There was an acquaintance of mine - a joking sort of man - said to me last week, 'Well, will you pewterers show anything at the Grand Exhibition of Industry, next year?' 'I don't know much what it's about,' I said, 'but mine's too small a way.' 'So,' says he, 'I hope something will be done for the honour of the toy trade.' 'Good earnings, I think, sir, would honour it best,' was my reply."
A basket toy-maker gave me the following information, his room was very poorly furnished , and was chiefly noticeable for its heterogeneous admixture of trades. The twigs used in basket-making lay on shoe makers' lasts; a bird-cage rested on a sieve; half-made toy-baskets were mixed with scraps of leather. All told of a dreary poverty: but the basket-maker's tone was cheery, and he told me he had felt the folly of repining uselessly.
"I was bred and born to basket-making," he said, "my father's and my uncle's trade. I've known the basket toy making for seventeen years. I follow it in the summer. There is little chance of selling basket-toys in the streets in bad weather. But in summer the children are walking out with their mothers, and the children are our best friends, for they tempt the mothers to buy of us. Besides, as to summer and winter, the country travellers (hawkers) don't go out in the winter. My goods are chiefly for fairs. I was very fortunate for a time. No one at all interfered with my trade in small baskets with pincushions in them. The pincushions are made of crimson velvet and sawdust; a few times I have used pink velvet, but that soon fades, so I stick to crimson. In the winter I take a turn at shoemaking, which I learned from an acquaintance. I myself am the only man in all the world who makes the penny pincushion-baskets. It's just a pincushion in a little basket, you see; but I started it. I sell it for a penny now with the cushion. Sixteen years ago I could sell more - ah! that I could, a great deal, and the same size - without the cushions, than I can now sell with them. But in that time a penny article of a nicer sort was a rarity, and soit went off. But now there's penny books, and penny papers, and penny numbers, and penny everythings, and nothing's so scarce that way as the pennies themselves. When I first made my baskets they was little things. Oh! here I've found a little basket, one of what I may call the first generation. But now this is the size. (The 'first generation,' as he called it, was about half the size of the 'present generation.') My wife and I can make eight dozen a day; we made no more of the little ones, only the bigger ones take rather more time. That's a good day's work is 8 dozen - 6 dozen is a fair day's work, what I call a 12 hours' day - as much as any man ought to work; but shoemakers must work 18 hours. It's no matter if we can make ourselves happy in our lot. Last year, from June to the end of October, I made three gross a week, that is, I did with my wife's help, she assisting at the cushions; that's 15 weeks at 432 a week, or 9,072 for the 21 weeks of the season. That's correct. The warehouses have the regular profit; they screw down. I can only get 7½d. a dozen, or rather 7s. 6d. a gross, for baskets with pincushions. Formerly warehouses laid in a stock of my baskets before Easter. Now they don't until they are asked for. There is such a change in fashion that shopkeepers is afraid to lay in. For all that, if I had capital I would now make a stock of them, and take my chance; but what capital can I raise, working for 1s. to 1s. 6d. a day on slop shoes, and with a family. I have made every kind of basket toys. Penny wicker carts, which pay the worst, go off the best. I can't make 1s. a day at long hours at them, or I would be carting now. The cushion-baskets was my regularest trade - the pennies; but I have made them of very fine basket work. They were sent out to Jersey, and to the repositories at the fashionable bathing places in England, and indeed all over the country. They were 6d., and some higher, according to the work, to shops. In the last season I only got 1s. 9d. clear profit on six dozen, or 10s. 6d. a week. It's an awful trade. My only chance is at a fair, anyways handy, but that's only a shilling or two extra, and fairs is few and far between, and then there's travelling expenses to come out of that and fatigues to stand. I wish I knew where I could get a few velvet cuttings cheap - that's a great advantage to me."
A person to whom I was referred as a very ingenious workman, gave me the following information concerning kites:
"I am alone in the trade," he said, "the only man in the world who makes kites after my peculiar scientific principles. This kite here, you see, folds up and will go into a case like an umbrella case, so that you can carry it in your hand. Instead of paper it is of fine cloth, as it is called in the trade - but it is fine glazed calico. By the management of the strings attached to the frame, the kite can be altered so as best to suit the wind as ascertained previous to flying, just as a sail on board ship is regulated. The tails of my kites have a series of cups,' or cones,' also of glazed calico. I hook them on or off, and there is no time lost. The introduction of the peculiar tails of my kites trebled their sale. I have made kites 12 feet high, which have drawn a four-wheeled chaise holding two persons. Such kites (12-foot kites) are mostly used in drawing boats along the Rhine and other rivers. They have amazing power. A pocket-handkerchief even, when held up in a wind, will be found to influence the motion of a boat. I have known even a 5-foot kite go to the full extent of the string, which was 1,700 yards, a few yards short of a mile. We calculate that two miles is the greatest distance a kite can be made to fly, but that is only when one kite is attached to the string of another already high in the air. No one could hold a kite flown so high; a post, or something of that kind, must be used. I have made kites for carrying meat into the air to test the state of the atmosphere during the rage of the cholera. I made 5,000 kites last year, but mine is a peculiar trade. Numbers take up kite-making without any instruction in the art. I suppose there are not above 25 kite-makers in London. Each, I should think, may make on the average a gross of kites in a day, which is 864 a week, which is 17,280 each man for the 20 weeks the season lasts, or altogether 432,000, and with more 437,000; of the farthing kites a man may make two or three gross a day, but some require labour, and a gross is a fair average. Average the cost of the kites to the public at 4d.; and my best 12-foot kites sell at £2, and a good 6-foot kite is fairly worth 6s. without the tail. I sell no kite under 1s. 6d. with the tail, and that will give £7,283 6s. 6d."
A woman who had known the fancy ball business for "well on to thirty years," she said, gave me the following information:
"I make only the better sort. Here is one; made of different coloured cloths, you perceive, in diamonds of different lengths and widths. The joinings are covered over with this light gilt wire. That toy, sir, is my own invention, I may say. I invented it with six quarterings, and now it has thirty six. I make such like in velvet. They are really beautiful. They're stuffed with the softest and finest seal's hair; so soft, the best hair is, that with a child's strength it wouldn't break a window, unless it was very bad glass, even if flung right against it. They're drawing-room balls. I work, sir, sometimes, for the Royal Family. The order comes to me through a warehouse, but I supply the article direct. I charge the warehouse-man the same as usual; what he charges is no concern of mine. I look at it this way: if a shopkeeper pays a fair wage to let workpeople live decently, and not be beat out by the first rainy day, why, let him get as good a price as he can. These balls, you see, are coloured leathers, without gilt wire, but well made. Each diamond is cut out according to a nice iron pattern. These are common things which I'm forced to make for the low shops. They won't wear. As to the cheap shops, I myself have seen --- in the ---, mark balls, that he had paid 4d. a piece to me for, at 2½d. in his window, before I'd left the place. He must make it up somehow, that's clear. What my returns in this business are, I can't tell; for my husband, who cuts out and such like, has another trade, and all the money goes together; we keep no separate accounts at all: but I do very well. We sell, I think, about a gross and a half a week, fancy balls. There are two other persons carrying on the trade, and the two together may make as many balls as I do. That's three gross a week, or 22,464 balls a year! Very likely. I pay no regular wages, as the trade is carried on by my own family; occasionally we have a little help. You can, if you like, reckon what the toys I make amount to this way: Say 1s. a dozen in the lump, for though I only get 5d. a dozen or some, I get 30s. for others. That's £561 12s. a year. The other makers together may take half that. The two sums added together come to £842 8s. A good deal of money that, to be spent every year in fancy balls."
I had the following statement from a Frenchman, who took no little pride in his art. He is the only person who carries on the making of papier-mache toys (as they have been called), which are covered - or, more properly, and that was my informant's word, clothed - with fur or hair. These toys display great taste and ingenuity. Some rabbits were as large as life - he brought different specimens to show me - and they looked natural enough, the body of the animal being made of paper formed by an art and a process (according to his own account) peculiar to my informant. A French accent was perceptible throughout the entire conversation, but was only very remarkable in rapid speech or in a dash of excitement. He said:
"Papier-mache was made before my father was born, or before my father's grandmother, but improvements took place twenty-five year ago. I can make you, if you please, the biggest animal in the world, waterproof, and that nothing can never break, of paper or papier-mache. Anything may be done with the paper, but I now use a composition as well - it is my secret of what he is made. I make only animals. I make them both way, for the ornament of the chimney and the amusement of the children. I make every domestic. There is none but I manufacture him with natural hair and wool. French poodle dogs have the call; rabbits is good; lambs go very well; goats is middling. All the world can be supplied, from 3d. up to £5, with the French poodles. I do not make the lions, nor the tigers, nor those creatures - I make only in domestic animals, but I could make the lions and the tigers as well. I make forty dozen domestic animals a week. Why you come here to ask? Lately my trade has been bad. I employ women and girls only, at so much on the dozen. I do not like to tell at what. It cannot be necessary. I cannot tell what relates to my secret. I will not. The skins for the poodles and the lambs I dress myself, or they would be stink. The cost - oh, I will not tell, they cost too much. I have been here for twenty-one years. I get the stink-lambs for skins. Last year I used 4,800 lamb skins, and 5,000 some year. I employ eight English women. The dogs is all lamb skins - their outsides. I use nearly as many rabbit skins. I do not never admit persons into my work-room. It is a very artful ingenuity. I can beat the French - indeed, I have beat my countrymen at home, for I have exportation to Paris; but the Germans come in cheap, cheap, and ruin the trade. This is a barking dog. I have made him, his bark and all - you see; yes, and you hear. The penny barks is no good; what barks can you expect for a penny? There's no get fat about him at 9d. This rabbit, you see, has a different skin to this other - the skin is the great cost with me. He have, too - the spring in his ears and tail, so that he lift them when the wheels go round. The earnings of my women? Oh! never mind; but I am not ashamed to tell. They earn 7s., and 9s., and 11s. a week, and never not less than 4s. My late wife could earn twenty and two shilling a week in this trade; but then she had the talent. Oh, no, none can now earn like that - they have not the talent - they have not the art in it - the nature - the interest. The work can only be done best by a relative of the master, one that has the interest in the making. The toys are not exactly papier-mache, which is fluid for mouldings, they are paper, common paper, in a solid form. The how it is made is my secret. None other persons are in my trade. I cannot open the secret any further. Pardon my reserve, for which I have account to you. How you say, sir, four dozen domestic animals a week, that's quite reasonable as to the arithmetic of it, and he makes 22,960 domestics a year. Yes, that at least and my women do not work hard. They might work harder. They work hard if they want new dresses for the Sundays. What will the twenty thousand and odd toys bring in money? The price vary, you comprehend, according to sizes and qualities, and arts and beauties. Yes, you can say 1s. each. How much, £1,148 in a year for all the domestics. Yes; but I will not tell prices or secrets.''