Victorian London - Publications - Our Social Bees; or, Pictures of Town & Country Life, and other papers, by Andrew Wynter, 1865 - Chapter 17 - The German Fair

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    IF Paterfamilias wishes for a new sensation, let him provide himself with a big basket and follow me. It will try his dignity, perhaps, to be seen struggling amid a mob of children; but, after all, he will not get half as much put out as in the crush-room of the Opera, and I promise him more thorough delight, far brighter eyes, and more genuine laughter than he will meet with there. Say it is three o'clock in the afternoon and on a seasonable December day when our cab drives up to the German Fair in Regent Street. Was there ever such a crowd before of merry little feet all pattering and pushing along the entrance. hall lined with Christmas-trees? Paterfamilias perhaps has not forgotten that cry of "Eureka !" the ten thousand gave when they first caught sight of the sea; but we question if it was half as hearty as the joyous "Oh!" that burst from the mouths of a hundred "terrible Turks," as they swarm into the glittering hall of the German Fair.
    Twice in our lives toys make themselves known to us as great facts. In youth, when we play with them and smash them ourselves, and in middle age, when we do it by [-166-] deputy in the persons of our own children; and, possibly, if you ask Paterfamilias, he will tell you that he enjoys them the second time more than the first — for then there are more to smash, and more to laugh and enjoy. But, if a man has any heart in him, how must he delight to see five hundred urchins all boiling over with pleasure, whilst five hundred mammas and papas are enjoying their happiness.
    In my young days, — when George IV. was king, — toys were toys, and youngsters were obliged to use them economically; but now there is no such necessity, for here we are in a room where it is impossible to spend more than a penny at time. I can get anything for a  penny — from a capital yard measure to a soup tureen — and as I am alive! there is Paterfamilias with his basket half-full already. He has a railroad that moves, a duck that swims, a trumpet that blows, a doll that cries, a perambulator that runs, and a monkey that jumps over a pole, and he has only got rid of sixpence! It becomes absolutely absurd to have so much for your money, and how he will manage to spend the sovereign he designs is to me a mystery. All around him urchins are busy. "I've had one of those, and two of those, and three of these, and four of those!" Why, it reminds us of Punch's satiated schoolboy settling his reckoning in the cake-shop, only here the boy has his cakes and toys still to enjoy. But there is a sixpenny and a shilling counter not far off, and interspersed amid the meaner gew-gaws, toys that rise to the rank of real works of art.
    Whilst Paterfamilias is picking out his two hundred and forty separate and distinct toys, let us pause for a moment, [-167-] and ask where they all come from. Reader, have you ever travelled for a livelong day through the dark and melancholy pine or fir forests of Germany? Ever listened to the soughing of the wind through the branches, or walked on the dumb carpet of pine tassels? If so, what has been the complexion of your thoughts? Possibly like mine, gloomy as the Halls of Dis. Yet, from these old inky forests, from the green valleys up which the pine-trees climb like black priests to the mountain summit, rush the torrents of toys which push on from year to year and penetrate into every nursery in Europe. In the recesses of the old Thuringian and other forests are glued, and turned, and painted, the legions of soldiers, the fleets of Noah's arks, and the countless whips, rattles, and squeaking dolls, that go to their last account in the snug nurseries of Europe. Strange fact, that in these grim forests half the laughter and joy of childhood should find their birth!
    The same principle that plants cotton-factories in Lancashire determines the production of toys — the presence of the raw material. If the pine logs from which they are manufactured were not immediately at hand, there would be no penny toys — and, possibly, no German Fair. Let us examine one of these penny articles. Here is a man wheeling a barrow of fruit. The prime cost of this article in the forest where it was made is only a kreuzer, or one-third of a penny ! The rest represents its package and carriage to these shores, the duty, and profit of the proprietor. It seems inconceivable that for so small a sum: such a result can be obtained, for the man is well enough proportioned, his barrow really will run, and the fruit is coloured after nature. A little inquiry, however, at the [-168-] same time that it clears up the mystery only increases our astonishment.
    In the first place, the wood is obtained for a mere nothing. For instance, the Grand Duke of Saxe Meiningen, on whose estates the flourishing toy colony of Sonneberg is situated, allows his people to select any tree from his forest close at hand for 2½d. Thus the raw material may be said to be given to them. Again, the organisation and division of labour  carried on to an extent in the production of these trifles which we can only liken to that exhibited in this country by watchmakers or pin fabricators. Let us revert to the man with the barrow of fruit, for instance. Possibly a dozen hands have been employed in its production. The man who turned the body of the figure, had nothing to do with his arms. A third person was employed to put together the barrow; a fourth to turn the wheel; a fifth to put the spokes in ; a sixth to put the linch-pin in ; a seventh to turn the fruit; an eighth to turn the basket on which they are placed; a ninth to colour the fruit; a tenth to colour the barrow; an eleventh to glue the whole together; and a twelfth to supply the final varnish. The incredible rapidity with which this minute division of labour enables the men, women, and children to accomplish each detail, is the secret of the whole matter. Not only do the dozen individuals manage to make a living out of the third of a penny, or rather less, which is to be divided amongst them, but they contrive to live comfortably and respectably into the bargain. The toy, thus completed, has to be packed and conveyed hundreds of miles along Alpine roads and down rapid rivers, until it is finally transported by the Rotterdam steam-boat [-169-] to our shores, to be again unpacked and displayed by Mr. Cremer in the German Fair. The history of the fruit-barrow is the history of almost every wooden article on the penny counters of this extraordinary place. The process of manufacture is the same throughout Germany, but the localities from which the different toys come are widely different. The vast majority are made at Grunhainscher, in Saxony. The glass comes from Bohemia. The bottles and cups are so fragile, that the poor workman has to labour in a confined and vitiated atmosphere, which cuts him off at thirty-five years of age. All articles that contain any metal are the produce of Nuremberg and the surrounding district. This old city has always been one of the chief centres of German metal work. The workers in gold and silver of the place have long been famous, and their iron-work is unique. This speciality has now descended to toys. Here all toy printing-presses, with their types, are manufactured; magic-lanterns; magnetic toys, such as ducks and fish, that are attracted by the magnet; mechanical toys, such as running mice and conjuring tricks, also come from Nuremberg. The old city is pre-eminent in all kinds of toy diablerie. Here science puts on the conjuror's jacket, and we have a manifestation of the Germanesque spirit of which their Albert Durer was the embodiment. The more solid articles which attract boyhood, such as boxes of bricks, buildings, &c., of plain wood, come from Grunhainscher, in Saxon).
    Very latterly a rapidly-increasing town named Furth has sprung up, six miles from Nuremberg, entirely devoted to the manufacture of Noah's arks, dissected puzzles, &c. The toys with motion, such as railroads, steam-vessels, [-170-] .and moving cabs, are the speciality of the people of Biberach, in Wurtemberg. And where should those splendid cuirasses, helmets, guns, and swords come from but Hesse Cassel, the centre of soldiering Germany? But the workmen of the principality are not entirely devoted to arms. The charming little shops, and parlours, and the dolls' houses — without which no nursery is complete — are made here. Neither must we forget the theatres, beloved of boys. Here and there some exquisite little interior of a cafι, with its fittings of marble tables, bottles, mirrors, and plate, attract the attention, and the inquirer learns with astonishment that they are made by felons in Prussian prisons. The taste and dexterity of hand displayed is amazing, and the result far preferable to the miserable hemp-beating or "grindings at nothing" at which some of our own prisoners are so fruitlessly employed.
    But this counter is fitted up as a refreshment stall. Here we have rolls and sausages and ducks and bottles of champagne and a hundred other dainties; but the children are too cunning; they are only shams — paper. The Berliners who make them call them "surprises," for it is rather a surprise to find bonbons for the stuffing of fowls, and sugar-plums tumbling out of simulated pieces of embroidery. Now and then we find a greater surprise still, for there goes a rich plum pudding floating up to the ceiling — an edible balloon.
    But where do all the dolls come from?  I hear my little flaxen ringlets say. Dolls are an universal vanity —  almost as universal as vanity itself. They seem to be made everywhere, excepting the one country that has a repute for making them. The wooden-jointed specimens [-171-] known as Dutch dolls all over the world, really come from the Tyrol, where wood-carving is a very ancient art. The Dutch have the credit of their production simply from the fact, that they are generally shipped from Rotteredam, which is found to be the most convenient port for German goods coming from the interior. To the Dutch, however, we are indebted for the introduction of the crying doll, which, I am happy to inform my young friends, cries for a penny almost as natural as life. The pattern originally came from Japan (a nation very ingenious in toys), and has long been lying in the Museum at the Hague. The German toy-makers, however, are now constructing them upon the same model. Fine wax dolls, with natural hair, are made, we are informed, at Petersdorff, in Silesia.. It will be flattering, however, to the national vanity to be informed, that the Londoners alone are capable of making the finest and most expressive dolls. The French, clever as they are, cannot touch us here. Some of the higher class English dolls are perfect models — the eyes are full of expression, and the hair is set on like nature itself. The faces are originally modelled in clay, and the wax is put on in successive layers. The highest class of workmen alone are capable of this kind of work. The beauty of Grecian sculpture is ascribed to the fine natural forms which their artists had to copy. Possibly we owe to the beauty of our women, in a like manner, our superiority in dolls, which now rank almost as works of art.
    It must be evident that where wood is employed as the material for toy-making, it is impossible to hope for anything very artistic at a rate that can be paid by the great middle class. This fact has led to the employment of [-172-] substance that can be cast in a mould, and yet be sufficiently tough to bear knocking about. Those who examined the Zollverein department in the Exhibition of 1851 will remember the beautiful toys exhibited by Adolphe Fleischmann.* [* The toys exhibited at the Great Exhibition were purchased by Mr. Cremer, of Bond Street, and formed the foundation of the present German Fair. The Great Exhibition has certainly borne no more welcome fruit to children than the establishment of this fountain of pleasure.] These were composed of papier-machι, mixed with a peculiar kind of earth. Since that time the art or toy-making in this new material has undergone a very great development all over Germany; but at Sonneberg, in Saxe Meiningen, a school of art has been established by the duke, for the cultivation of the workmen in the arts of design. In this school, models of all the best antique and modern sculpture are to be found, and collections of good prints. To this school all the young children are sent to model, under pain of a fine; and an art education is the result, which shows itself in the exquisite little models which come from the ateliers of Adolphe Fleischmann. There are now in the German Fair models of animals that a sculptor may copy. Bulls, lions, asses, &c., delineated with an anatomical nicety which is really wonderful. Many of the works of art produced by him are copied from well-known engravings, and are entitled solid pictures. There is one in the Fair now, representing Luther and his family around a Christmas tree in the room he once occupied. The modelling of this group originally cost nine guineas, but the moulds once produced, the subsequent copies are procurable at a very cheap rate. There  [-173-] can be no doubt that to familiarize children with well-designed. toys is a very important step towards educating the race in she love of art. We cannot help thinking, however, that what the future man will gain, the child will lose. If we make our toys too good, they will either be used as ornaments, or children will be stinted. of their full enjoyment of them, for fear they may be injured — which God forbid. It may be very wrong. and possibly I am inculcating very destructive principles, but I cannot help thinking that a judicious smashing of toys now and then is a very healthy juvenile occupation.
    There are some little monsters we know, that will keep their toys without speck or spot for years, but they are doomed to die old maids or bachelors. Besides, how could we better or earlier satisfy the analytic spirit that is within us, than by breaking open the drummer-boy to see what makes him drum? With this destructive view of the subject, we think Mr. Cremers the proprietor of the Fair, is entitled to the thanks of every paterfamilias in the kingdom, for at a penny a-piece our children may break their toys to their heart's content. How many of these penny toys does my reader imagine are here sold day by day? Fifty pounds' worth! A little calculation shows that this sum represents 12,000 toys. Now, calculating each toy to produce only ten occasions of enjoyment, we have 120,000 bursts of merriment dispersed  every day about Christmas time to the rising generation of London alone, to say nothing of the enjoyment produced by the higher-priced toys. How that joy is rejected by the fond mothers' eyes a hundredfold, I need not say; and as to going on with the calculation, that is quite out of the question.
     [-174-] The Saxon is the great consumer of the toys produced by the Saxon. England and America take more toys than any other nation. The value of the toys imported to England alone in the year 1846 was 1,500,000 florins ; and the paper and packthread with which they were packed cost 25,000 florins or £2,100!
    Whilst Paterfamilias toils after me with his handbasket, let me draw the attention of my young friends to the old monk near the doorway, who carries in one hand a Christmas tree, whilst he holds in the other a birch for naughty boys, but over his shoulder we see a bag of toys for the good ones. This is St. Nicholas, the patron of children. On Christmas Eve it is the fashion throughout France and Germany, to prepare the children of the household for his nocturnal visit. Refreshment is laid for himself, and hay and other provender for his ass. In the morning the eager children find the food and provender gone, but in their place all kinds of beautiful toys. Mr. Cremer is our St. Nicholas, and does the business of the old monk without any mystery, but in an equally satisfactory manner.