Put the Book Back on the Shelf*

 “The family’s principal entertainment…was for everyone to recount their dreams.”  – Vasily Peskov quoted in this fascinating Smithsonian article

Fairly often, I’ll be walking down the hall on the second floor of our library, when one of the nonfiction books on display will jump out at me. The question then becomes, do I pick the book up or leave it there on the shelf.

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I’m a sucker for beautifully designed covers so I couldn’t resist picking up a book the other day called Illusions in Motion. Before cinema, artists and showmen were already experimenting with visual storytelling through the use of moving panoramas, all in the service of keeping people entertained. According to Erkki Huhtamo’s impressively researched tome:

The moving panorama was a long painting that unscrolled behind a ‘window’ by means of a mechanical cranking system, accompanied by a lecture, music, and sometimes sound and light effects. Showmen exhibited such panoramas in venues that ranged from opera houses to church halls, creating a market for mediated realities in both city and country.

The book traces the history of the panorama, and its influence on the creation of complimentary and competing types of entertainment media—from panoramic toy theaters, to dioramas and magic lantern shows—that likely paved the way for modern film & television.

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Toy panoramic theater from the book Illusions in Motion.

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Panoramic peepshow box from the book Illusions in Motion.

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Toy panoramic theater lit by candlelight, from the book Illusions in Motion.

I studied printmaking and book arts as an undergraduate, so after perusing Illusions I had to learn more about these toy theaters made from paper. Amazingly enough, we happen to have not one, but TWO reference books on the topic: The History of the English Toy Theatre and Penny Plain Two Pence Coloured: A History of the Juvenile Drama.

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Pollock’s toy theatre shop in London, from The History of the English Toy Theatre.

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Benjamin Pollock in his shop with one of his toy theaters, from the book Penny Plain Two Pence Coloured.

And from these books I was eventually led to discover Pollock’s Toy Museum in London, along with the irresistible urge to make my very own toy theater.

So beware. Go ahead and take that book off the shelf, but if you do, don’t be surprised if you find yourself in some very unexpected places.

Happy Friday,

Tara

PS – Title partially sponsored by this Belle & Sebastian song.

Moving panorama from the book Illusions in Motion.

Moving panorama from the book Illusions in Motion.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Put the Book Back on the Shelf*

  1. This is just beautiful. As a kid I thought places like this existed…

  2. I always enjoy the real life journeys I end up going on because of a book I read. Whether it is fiction or nonfiction. When the intangible becomes tangible.

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