Imagine, you are a child living in the late 1800s. It is coming up to Easter, and your father tells you he has purchased a present for you, and you must now be good while your Grandparents visit. If you behave well, he will give you the present he bought. You think it might be the sheet of ducks you saw for sale. You have quite a collection of little cut out animals which you have carefully cut out and stood up in little scenes, and you just loved the ducks you saw.
When I took these paper animals to show the children, they were entralled by them. The children love colouring in, cutting and pasting, and to see such well made, beautiful images not only printed ready to cut out, but designed to stand on their own, was very exciting. Many demanded copies of them be made on cardboard that they could then use. The thing which surprised them most though was that the sheets had survived so long. They thought that if they had owned them, they wouldn't have been able to resist cutting them up and using them in their games.
When we think of toys today, we tend to think of much more robust, long lasting styles than those made of paper, yet paper toys have had a remarkably long history. Paper toys can be traced back right to the beginning of origami. We tend to think of origami as a Japanese craft, but it actually had its beginnings in China in the first or second century, and was then adapted into Japanese culture in the sixth century. We also tend to think of toys made of paper as cheap and disposable, yet this was not the case in days gone by. Paper was very expensive, so only the rich could afford to use it for something as frivolous as making toys and models.
These three dimensional origami paper models were popular, but they were fiddly to make, and very expensive. Yet, there were other paper toys which were used. The idea of paper dolls may conjure up images of paper figures, ready to be dressed, but paper dolls actually also include animals and even inanimate objects and such paper dolls have probably been around for almost as long as paper. These very early paper figures were probably short lived and very simple in design, but were probably also not massively different from the paper dolls which became popular in the 1800s. The first paper doll to be sold was 'Little Fanny' who was produced in 1810 and 'Little Henry' soon followed, being published in 1812. The little animal figures which I showed the children probably date from the late 1800s, but could have been produced as late as the 1950s. They would have been purchased as they are here, with ready made patterns printed on sheets of paper, ready to be cut out and folded to enable them to stand up.