the World is under my feet

the World is under my feet
screen shot from the movie 'Elizabeth the Golden Age'

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

London though a hole

The first time I saw 'Peepshow' (or Peep show) toys was somewhere in England, probably at the Museum of Childhood in Edinburgh (2004) or at Museum of London (2005), or at the Museum of London Docklands (2008). I might see some in Hong Kong when I was a child, but I cannot recall.

Okay, time to research. When I tried to find an appropriate object name (sorry, very museological term) of such toy, I used 'cardboard tunnel', 'tunnel view', 'cardboard, three-dimensional view, tunnel' etc. I had to dig out my old notebook in which I jotted down notes during hundred of museum visits as well as the museum guidebooks I purchased. Finally, here's an answer: on 3rd March 2008 at the Museum of London Docklands, and the keyword I wrote is 'Tunnel peepshow'. Glad that I have such a habit to write notes. But why I revisited London in March?!

What is Peepshow in General?

Well, I am not an expert and in fact know too less about Peepshow. Therefore, I only gathered and rewrote texts from different websites. References and links are as below.

Peepshow, or called raree show, its origin can be traced in the 15th and 16th centuries. At the first beginning, peepshow was originally the preserve of the educated, scientists and artists. But by the 18th century, it had become a feature of popular street entertainment. Popular themes included foreign countries, historical events and nature. From the early 19th century, small peepshows were very popular as souvenirs since they could be folded and portable. This kind of entertainment did not only developed in Europe but also popular in China and Japan.

Peepshow is usually a simple wooden box with a biconvex lens and a set of architectural and topographical engravings in order to create an artificial illusion of depth. There were 2 types of peepshow boxes: Horizontal one used a lens and distance to create a 3-d affect; Vertical boxes were called boite d'Optiques and used a combination of viewing lens in front and mirror placed at a 45 degree angle. The viewer looked through the lens while the mirror redirected his/her line of sight to the view below.

Some mysterious and magical peepshow were strongly depended on the itinerant showmen's story telling abilities. They would at times create movement by manipulating the images within by using strings and hooks. Those showmen traveled the towns and fairs attracting people by their voices, musical instruments and sometimes an accompanist. They hawed their wares in competition with other street entertainers, like dancing bears, learned pigs, jugglers, balancing acts, conjurers, pantomimes, and puppeteers, in most of the large European cities. 

This kind of entertainment was known by different names in different countries: in Holland is Rarekiek, in Germany is Guckkasten, in Italy is Mondo Nuovo, in China is '拉大片' (Romanization 'Lai Tai Pin' or Mandarin Pinyin 'La Da Pian'), in France is Boite d' optique, and in the US and England is Peepshow.

The peepshow toy I like is a small tunnel-liked cardboard tube equipped with several layers of architectural and topographical prints which shows the landscape or architectural features of London. Like the following show the views of the landmarks of London (sorted by the year of manufacture):

The Thames Tunnel, London, 1825, from Museum of London

A View of tunnel under the Thames, London, 1827, from Museum of London

 'A Perspective of the Thames Tunnel', Germany, c.1850, from Museum Victoria

'The Thames Tunnel' peepshow, unknown place, c.1851, from Science Museum London

Lane’s Telescopic View of the Interior of the Exhibition, 1851, London, from The University of Southern California Libraries’ Special Collections

Spooner's view of the Great Exhibition, London, 1851, from Museum of London

The Richard Balzer Collection
Interesting collection of Peepshow and history about this craft
Peepshows in V&A Museum of Children, London
Something out of London but quite amazing: Peepshow in China (in Simplified Chinese)

1 comment:

  1. Hello,
    With this email I allow myself to let you know that I put this tunnel book of thames tunnel on sell. The auction will take place on December 17 th at 1:30pm (Belgian Hour). It’s the 11 number on the website’s page.
    11 - Vue d'optique à soufflet : "Thames Tunnel". - See more at:
    Best regards