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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Offering of the Day: A Unique Civil War Toy Featuring a Panorama of 22 Scenes

Milton Bradley & Co.
The Myriopticon: A Historical Panorama of the Rebellion
Springfield, Mass: Milton Bradley & Co., 1866

1 box with a roll of paper: col. ill.; 5 1/8" x 8 1/8" (ca. 1866-ca. 1868].  References: James J. Shea. It's all in the game.  New York: G.P. Putnam's  Sons, 1960, pp. 78-85; Inez McClintock. Toys in
America. Washington, DC: Public Affairs  Press, 1961, pp. 225, 262.   
The toy contains a panorama of twenty-two Civil War scenes mounted on two rollers that can be turned by a key.  This causes the panorama to pass across the proscenium, allowing the viewer to see a performance of selected events from the war.  The scene displayed here - the firing on Fort Sumter by General Anderson and his men - is the first on the roll.  The myriopticon ends with a view of the burning and evacuation of Richmond by Confederate troops.       

Milton Bradley began making toys in 1860.  He developed the idea for the myriopticon around 1866 after viewing a German toy with moving parts.  The pictures were copied by Bradley from the pages of Harper's Weekly.  They were most evocative when illuminated from underneath.  The purpose of the myriopticon was to entertain and to educate and was wholly in keeping with Milton Bradley's philosophy.  An early advocate of the American Kindergarten movement, Bradley alsopublished the first American book on the subject, Paradise of Childhood.    

The myriopticon was modeled on the mid nineteenth-century stagings of larger-than-life moving panoramic scenes.  One of the most popular was artist John Banvard's panorama of the Mississippi, which he took on tour around the United States and England.  This massive painting took about two hours to unroll and was accompanied by narration and music.  This form of entertainment is considered the first item to capture the home viewing audience with a moving picture and is thus one of the precursors of the modern movie.  The myriopticon enabled children to replicate these performances on a much smaller scale.  The box itself is designed to look like an Elizabethan stage and the toy comes complete with admission tickets.  At one time it would also have been  accompanied by a poster, advertising the performance, and a script.

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