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A8964 Toy theatre, 'Zoological Garden', paper / varnish / paint, made in Germany, 1860-1870. Click to enlarge.

Toy theatre ‘Zoological Garden’

Made in Germany, 1860-1870.

This scene of a zoological garden, designed as a prop for imaginative play, was probably made in Germany between 1860 and 1870. The clothing indicates it may have been as made as early as 1860, but these scenes were often produced for many years after they were first designed.

This is a particularly fine paper theatre set which has been much loved in its life time. We can see this is the case because the magazine used to strengthen the original worn-out box was printed in 1901, many years after...


Object No.


Object Statement

Toy theatre, 'Zoological Garden', paper / varnish / paint, made in Germany, 1860-1870

Physical Description

Toy theatre, 'Zoological Garden', paper / varnish / paint, made in Germany, 1860-1870

This mid-nineteenth century paper toy was originally housed in a red and green cardboard box. The box has been covered with paper from the book 'The Hundred Best Pictures', published by Charles Letts & Co. in 1901.

The box houses 46 separate cardboard cut outs depicting various parts of a zoological garden, including a variety of different animals. Each has been printed lithographically in monochrome and then hand painted using aniline dyes. Some parts of the cut-outs have been varnished to amplify the sense of depth.



340 mm


390 mm



This toy was probably made in Germany between 1860 and 1870.


Germany 1860-1870



Toy theatres and dioramas like this zoological garden became popular in the nineteenth century. Scenes like this one which included, the zoo's entrance, people strolling through the garden and of course the animals and the enclosures reflected the real experience. It enabled children to relive the zoo visit and move their characters through a world in miniature.

While not strictly speaking a toy theatre it reflects the tradition established by toy theatre publishers in Britain like William West and Bernard and William Hodgson who were both in operation by the 1820s. These companies printed their own sheets but by the end of the 1800s were facing serious competition from ready built theatres from Germany complete with cut-out characters and scenery.

Toy theatre and dioramas like much of the toy industry in Germany was centred in Nuremburg but there were also some established publishers in Berlin. It wasn't until the introduction of hand painted lithographic prints in the 1830s, containing character scenes, that these lithographed paper toys really became popular. Early sheets are now extremely rare and only a few examples, such as a harbour scene by F. Nap Campe, survive.


Credit Line

Gift of Arthur Boothroyd, 1983

Acquisition Date

20 April 1983

Cite this Object


Toy theatre 'Zoological Garden' 2019, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 23 July 2019, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Toy theatre 'Zoological Garden' |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=23 July 2019 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}

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