HACK, Maria (1777-1844), attributed
A geographical panorama : exhibiting characteristic representations of the scenery and inhabitants of various regions.
A very rare toy for children with exquisite aquatint renderings of scenes from around the globe, including views of Oonalaska (after Webber) and the Society Islands (after Parkinson) from Cook’s voyages.
London : Harvey and Darton, 1822. Mahogany box, 300 x 260 x 90 mm, sliding lid with engraved title sheet (worn), the underside of which is engraved with 8 grooves for inserting the pieces of the diorama, the box containing two mahogany support struts with brass fittings that insert into the brass clips on the body of the box, three sheets of card (one folding) which are placed into the mahogany struts to form a proscenium arch through which one can view the diorama. There are nine background scenes printed in colour aquatint, and 18 (of 21) diecut images, all of which are inserted into the grooves of the wooden base to form a diorama of a scene from a particular part of the world. The printed instructions are provided in facsimile.
The backdrops are somewhat generic, allowing them to be used in a number of different compositions. In the explanatory leaflet, the scenes and figures are described as follows: I. the Desert of Arabia; II. Hindostan; III. A stormy sky (with detail of Captain William Parry’s ship in Baffin Bay; alternatively M. de Saussure ascending Mont Blanc); IV. China; V. A calm sea (with detail of a canoe in Oonalaska; the shooting of walruses and a polar bear, all after Webber’s illustrations for Cook’s third voyage); VI. the Society Islands (with detail after Parkinson’s illustrations for Cook’s first voyage); VII. the mountains of Dofrafeld (Scandinavia); VIII. the Acropolis of Athens; IX. Lapland (with detail of figures from Kamchatka).
Originally sold at the advertised price of £3 3s, this elaborate and very expensive toy theatre would have been the preserve of only the wealthiest families in Georgian England. The instructions explain that the theatre is shown to best effect by candlelight; the candles were to be placed behind the cardboard wings at the sides, with the flickering ambient light creating a quasi-cinematic effect. A scorch mark to one of the struts is a tell-tale sign that the original owners of the theatre did indeed deploy lit candles to enhance the effect of the display.
Authorship has been attributed to Maria Hack, recognised as a frequent collaborator of Darton, and the artwork for the aquatints to her daughter, Elizabeth Barton Hack. The imagery draws heavily from other printed sources, including engravings illustrating the voyages of Captain James Cook. One of the die-cuts in the first scene is replicated as the frontispiece to volume one of Maria Hack’s Winter Evenings, or Tales of Travellers (London : Darton & Harvey, 1818), which does strongly suggest that the Hacks were the creators of A geographical panorama.
As with most children’s games from the Georgian period, few examples have survived; those that have tend to be incomplete. The present example is substantially complete, lacking only a few of the die-cut components, while the instructions are provided in facsimile. This toy theatre was unknown to Beddie, and is not noted in any other Pacific voyages bibliography; no example is held in any Australian collection.
Shefrin, Jill. The Dartons : Publishers of educational aids, pastimes, and juvenile ephemera, 1787–1876: a bibliographic checklist. Los Angeles : Cotsen Occasional Press, 2009 (G1131)
Hyde, Ralph. Paper Peepshows: The Jacqueline and Jonathan Gestetner Collection. Woodbridge [U.K.] : Antique Collectors Club, 2015 (366)
Exhibited (other examples):
“Children’s books of yesterday”. National Book League, London, May 1946
“The Cottage of Content : or, Toys, Games, and Amusements of Nineteenth Century England”. Yale Center for British Art, November 2 – December 31, 1977
“Children’s books published by William Darton and his sons”. Lilly Library, Indiana University, April-June 1992
“Paper Peepshows, The Jacqueline and Jonathan Gestetner Collection”. Woodbridge, Suffolk, Antique Collectors’ Club, 2015
Museum of Childhood (Victoria and Albert Museum), London (MISC.1-32-1955)
Yale Centre for British Art, New Haven (GV1199 G41 Flat)
Princeton University Library, New Jersey (18497)
Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée, Paris (AP-94-151)