See paper peepshows up close in the National Art Library!


Word and Image
July 6, 2018

Fancy a peek into the miniature world of the paper peepshow? Then join the National Art Library to see our Paper Peepshows Capsule Collection!

Optique No. 4: Promenade de Longchamp, published in France, ca. 1827. Museum number: Gestetner 24. Image: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Paper peepshows are pocket-sized optical devices that became popular in the early 19th century. Usually made of card, paper or cloth, they expand to reveal miniature views of famous cities, historic events, feats of engineering or celebrated theatrical performances. They were commonly sold as souvenirs for the enjoyment of children and adults alike.

The National Art Library is home to the world’s largest collection of paper peepshows. Over 360 examples were collected over thirty years by Jacqueline and Jonathan Gestetner and given to the Museum in 2016.

[Workhouse Scene], handmade in Britain, ca. 1830. Museum number: Gestetner 223. Image: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Photograph: Dennis Crompton.

We want to give you the chance to get closer to these delicate and curious objects so we’ve selected seven of our favourites to whet your appetite. The chosen examples have been meticulously conserved by our Book Conservation team who have also produced illustrated handling instructions for each object.

You’ll unfold the bellows and glimpse through the arches of the Thames Tunnel in a German peepshow made to celebrate the tunnel’s opening in 1843. You’ll learn how to make your very own peepshow from instructions in a Werner Laurie Showbook, designed to appeal to 1950s children. And you’ll find yourself tumbling down the rabbit hole in Tara Bryan’s playful visualisation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Down the Rabbit Hole, by Tara Bryan, published by Walking Bird Press, 2005. Museum number: Gestetner 16. Image: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Photograph: Dennis Crompton.

To see the Peepshows Capsule Collection, all you need to do is:

  1. Join the National Art Library. It’s free to join and we’re open to all. Instructions on how to join us can be found here.
  2. Go to the National Art Library Catalogue online and search for the ‘Paper Peepshows Capsule Collection’ (or click here for the shortcut!).
  3. Request the Capsule Collection by hitting the green ‘Request item’ button in the record. You’ll be asked to sign in and verify your request. More information about using the catalogue and requesting items can be found here.

The Capsule Collection will be delivered to the Specials Desk in the National Art Library Reading Room for you to view there.

Below is a full list of the paper peepshows contained within the Capsule Collection:

  • Optique No. 4: Promenade de Longchamp, published in France, ca. 1827. Museum no. Gestetner 24
  • [Workhouse Scene], handmade in Britain, ca. 1830. Museum no. Gestetner 223
  • Königl Bair: priv: erste Eisenbahn zwischen Nürnberg und Furth / The First Royal Iron rail-road between Nuremberg and Furth, published in Germany, ca. 1837. Museum no. Gestetner 139
  • Der Themse-Tunnel / Thames Tunnel, published in Germany, ca. 1843. Museum no. Gestetner 155
  • Lane’s Telescopic View of the Ceremony of Her Majesty Opening the Great Exhibition of all Nations, designed by Bailey Rawlins, printed and published by C. A. Lane, 1851. Museum no. Gestetner 254
  • Enid Blyton Presents ‘A Rubbalong Tale’, published by T. Werner Laurie, printed in the Netherlands by L. Van Leer & Co. Amsterdam, ca. 1952. Museum no. Gestetner 289 and 290
  • Down the Rabbit Hole, by Tara Bryan, published by Walking Bird Press, 2005. Museum no. Gestetner 16

If you’d like to find out more, Ralph Hyde’s illustrated catalogue of the Gestetner collection can be found on the Reference Shelves in the Library.

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