Pasatiempo - - NEWS -

the first half of the 20th cen­tury, the ad­vent of ra­dio and tele­vi­sion helped to drive the fi­nal nails into the cof­fin of the pa­per theater. But dur­ing the pre­vi­ous cen­tury, pa­per theaters — also known as minia­ture or toy theaters — were a pop­u­lar form of fam­ily en­ter­tain­ment in Eng­land, France, Ger­many, and other Euro­pean coun­tries, as well as in the United States. “A penny plain and two pence coloured” was a com­mon re­frain in the shops that sold them in Great Bri­tain, re­fer­ring to ei­ther black-and-white re­pro­duc­tions or hand-col­ored ver­sions. And for the price, you could get ev­ery­thing you needed to mount your own pro­duc­tions at home, in­clud­ing the theaters — col­ored or not — along with cut-out pa­per fig­urines and play scripts. When con­structed, the theaters of­ten mea­sured no more than about 15 by 19 inches in size, though they could be smaller or larger de­pend­ing on the re­gion where they were made.

In his 1887 col­lec­tion of es­says, Mem­o­ries and Por­traits, Scot­tish au­thor Robert Louis Steven­son re­counts his child­hood fas­ci­na­tion with pa­per theaters, as he grew up in the city of Ed­in­burgh at a time when they were still at the height of their pop­u­lar­ity. The au­thor of Trea­sure Is­land re­called the scripts that went along with them, which in­cluded such ti­tles as Aladdin, The Bat­tle of Water­loo, Robin Hood, and The Ter­ror of Ja­maica. “In this roll-call of stir­ring names you read the ev­i­dences of a happy child­hood,” he wrote. Ev­ery Satur­day, Steven­son went to the shore to watch the ships in the Firth of Forth com­ing in to Ed­in­burgh. “There stands, I fancy, to this day (but now how fallen!) a cer­tain sta­tioner’s shop at a cor­ner of the wide thor­ough­fare that joins the city of my child­hood with the sea.” In the shop win­dow stood a toy theater de­pict­ing a for­est scene with carous­ing rob­bers, and be­low it, bun­dles of scripts that promised drama and adventure, all of which fired Steven­son’s imag­i­na­tion. “And then to go within, to an­nounce your­self as an in­tend­ing pur­chaser, and, closely watched, be suf­fered to undo those bun­dles and breath­lessly de­vour those pages of ges­tic­u­lat­ing vil­lains, epilep­tic com­bats, bosky forests, palaces and war-ships, frown­ing fortresses and prison vaults — it was a giddy joy,” he wrote.

Pa­per theaters can still be found, now sold as nov­el­ties more than as a pop­u­lar ac­tiv­ity, and su­perla­tive ex­am­ples are in mu­seum col­lec­tions and pri­vate col­lec­tions across the world. In Santa Fe’s Mu­seum of In­ter­na­tional Folk Art, a num­ber of as­sem­bled theaters grace the hall lead­ing to the mu­seum’s Gi­rard Wing, set in niches in the wall. “They’re per­fect ma­te­rial for Alexan­der Gi­rard to have col­lected be­cause of his sense

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