Friday, January 23, 2015

Animated Sand Toys and Music Boxes

Here's a short video that I made to spotlight the wonderful sand toys and music boxes created by Mel and Eunice Birnkrant. (Direct link to video)

These primitive automata are inspired by the artwork of Victorian toy theaters. The figures are cut out of paperboard sheets and arranged in a tiny stage, complete with curtain and audience. Mel took the idea to the next step and invented the mechanisms needed to make them come to life.
More about Mel Birnkrant, toy inventor and collector
More about Mel and Eunice's sand toys and music boxes.


Pierre Fontaine said...

Ahhh...that hits close to home for me!

One of my favorite books ever is called "Paper Toys of the World" by Blair Whilton (copies can easily be found on ebay most days). In it are chapters related to Toy Theaters and Animated Sand Toys with reproductions of the original sheets.

Many of these sheets were published by Imagerie D'Epinal during the 1800's and early 1900's. The artwork is charming and the mechanics for the Animated Sand Toys are a joy to behold.

What really captures my imagination is the sense of space created by these simple toy theaters. You can feel that there's a whole world behind the proscenium arch, which of course is the beauty of theater and set design. I've built a few toy theaters and sand toys myself (including my own toy theater version of the Tarrytown Music Hall).

Thank you for creating this video and sharing Mr. Birnkrant's fantastic toy collection. It really made my day.

Do you know if he offers tours? Your videos have really piqued my interest!


Tom Hart said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Hart said...

I'm sorry to say that I almost didn't click on this video, but I'm so glad I did. (There's a lesson for me!). These boxes are completely charming. The whimsy of the pieces and the obvious joy that the makers have in their craft is infectious. Like Pierre said, this little video made my day.

James Gurney said...

Thanks for sharing those thoughts. I'm also fascinated by the whole idea of a theater selling these miniature paper versions of the shows that people could take home and build. What diligence! Mel was telling me that artists would come to the shows and sketch the actors on stage and then go back and create a product that could be sold in the lobby. Sorry, the collection is in a private home and he's not able to offer tours to the public.

Tom, glad you clicked and glad it made your day. These toys deserve to be better known.

Pierre Fontaine said...

When I went to London last year, the one destination I had to see was Pollack's Toy Shop at Covent Garden. That store is the mecca of Toy Theater enthusiasts for generations as well as paper toys in general.

Benjamin Pollock (and others) did indeed employ individuals to see a theatrical production then recreate the scenery for his toy theaters. The reproduced scenery for these toy theaters are valuable because they are, in many cases, the only representation of Victorian scenery design still in existence.

I spent a good deal of my spending money for my UK trip on items I could only find at Pollack's Toy Shop. If you're interested, it's worthwhile checking out their website where many of the original toy theater sheets are still for sale:

Again, thanks for this very inspirational video!

Bobby La said...

Beautiful work!

I love the comment "we almost made a living from it".....could be my epitaph.

Great blog by the way. Been devouring it these last few days. Learning heaps!

Regards Ross

Alonso said...

these are awesome, jumpstarts creativity.

It would be really interesting to combine them with this software disney developed for planning and tracking arcs