What are Toy Theatres?

titleshop1A Toy Theatre is a miniature stage, built in card or wood and brightly coloured. Children perform plays on it using characters and scenes cut out from printed sheets and text written in a simple “playbook”. The audience would normally be family and friends and the auditorium the front room. Adults too are known to use them, especially the large elaborate versions published in Germany and Denmark.

As well as being a flexible means of expression, the sheets represent a vibrant folk art derived from the full size theatre. It is a unique record of real plays and stage presentations, particularly of the nineteenth century. Many enthusiasts collect and study old sheets for this reason.


Shock closure of Pollock’s Toy Museum

Here is the official statement from the Museum which has been such a surprise to everyone:


a fabulous resource

Joseph Parks of Saltburn-on-Sea published the magazine “Vanity fair” from 1917 to 1927. It then became the “Collector’s Miscellany” from 1928 until 1953. It was a publication for collectors of all sorts of things, including Toy Theatre. It had articles by George Speaight and others. The information is not always accurate but it has period interest and some of it does not appear elsewhere. A lot of the issues have been scanned and can be viewed for free on http://www.friardale.co.uk.

The following is a list of the main items related to Toy Theatre that appear in the issues currently available:


Vol.2 issue 16, November 1925. “March’s Theatre”, Frank Jay.

Vol.2 issue 18, January 1926, “March’s Mother Goose”, Edward Herdman.

Vol.3 issue 28, December 1926, Daily mirror photo of Benjamin Pollock in his shop.


Vol.1 issue 6. February 1929. “Juvenile Theatre its History and Development” part2. Frank Jay.

Vol.1 April-May 1932, Letter “Juvenile Drama”, FS

New series:

No.1 November-December 1932. “Plays in Packets” , E.Percival.

No.7 December-January 1933/4 “Juvenile Theatre”, M.W.Stone.

No.8 February-April 1934 “W.West 1811-1831”, M.W.Stone.

No.9. May-September 1934 “The Plays of Hodgson 1822-1834”, M.W.Stone.

No.10 March 1935 “J.K.Green (1808?) 1811”, M.W.Stone.

No.13 October 1935 “Price of sheets 1811-1935”, G.Speaight.

No.14 December 1935 “Juvenile Theatre”, Gerald Morice.

No.15 August 1936 “Practical performances on the Toy Theatre”, G.Speaight.

No.16 October 1936 “The Juvenile Drama Abroad”, Gerald Morice.

No.17 December 1936 ditto part 2.

No.18 February-May 1937. Front cover shows first page of the first issue (1870) of the “Boy’s Halfpenny Weekly Budget of Plays, Stories, Characters and Scenes”, which included 2 free plates of “Timour the Tartar”.

No.22 August-December 1938 “The Toy Theatre”, Gerald Morice.

No.24.January-June 1939 “Side Lines of Toy Theatre Publishers”, G.Speaight.

Fourth series:

No.2 Winter 1941 “Same scene but different play” , Charles Williams

No.3. February 1942 “About Webb’s Plays”, Charles Williams.

No.4. July 1942 “Some Mathew Revivals”, Charles Williams.

No.5. Undated. “Revivals of Andrews & Co.”, Charles Williams.


A Penny Plain and Twopence Coloured

Another excellent book by David Powell is now available from Pollock’s Toy Museum Trust. It is an in depth analysis of the essay, “A Penny Plain and Twopence Coloured” which Robert Louis Stevenson wrote and which made Toy Theatre famous in literary circles.

The book goes into a lot of detail about the story behind the essay, Stevenson’s fall out with William Webb. and the sources of the many references that he made.

Stevenson was really only interested in plays about pirates and highwaymen and there is no doubt that his famous book, “Treasure Island”, was very much influenced by the Toy Theatre.


The Tiny World of Toy Theatres

An exciting new permanent display is now open at Pickford’s House Museum in Derby (41 Friar Gate, Derby DE1 1DA). The museum has free entry and is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 1000-1700.

The Frank Bradley Collection of Model Theatres, which has occupied just one small room, is the basis of the display which now expands to fill three rooms on most of the top floor.

The Display shows links to the real theatre including the Derby Theatre and its premiere of “Dracula”!

Visitors can try out a wind machine and a thunder run and have a go at creating their own toy theatre characters and scenes and displaying them in a theatre that we have made for this activity.

For further information see https://www.derbymuseums.org/collection/the-tiny-world-of-toy-theatre/


Multum in Parvo (much in little)

In 2010 Benno Mitschka and Christine Schenk set up a company in Germany known as Multum in Parvo Toy Theatres. You can find their web page at www.papiertheater-shop.com.

They print high quality copies of Toy Theatre sheets to order. Their repertoire includes the classic sheets produced by Chroust (Czech), Pellerin, Jacobsen, Mon Theatre, Paluzie, Rigler (Budapest), Robrahn, Scholz, Schreiber, Seix y Barral, Trentsensky, Weissenburg and other publishers.

Check them out, you will not be disappointed!


New Toy Theatre for the Jubilee!


We are publishing a new Toy Theatre Stage Front in order to celebrate an amazing 70 years of service by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The theatre is called “Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee Toy Theatre” and is loosely based on the famous proscenium of Her Majesty’s Theatre in London.

You can download the stagefront in 3 sheets here. Please note that it prints on A3 paper.

The theatre will take the traditional 6 by 7 inch Toy Theatre scene size.

Click to access stage-front.pdf


Faust returns

We are adding another free Toy Theatre play to download. It is “Faust” which we published originally as a printed play back in 1978, although less than a hundred copies were ever sold. It is part of the repertoire of Ulrich Chmel who has performed it in venues in various cities in Austria. We hope you enjoy it, here you have both coloured and plain versions ( allowing you to colour it yourself) and also the playbook. We published the directions for performing Toy Theatre plays last year so please refer to that if you are not familiar.


Another new play

Here is our latest production, a Toy Theatre version of “Puss-in-Boots”. We think that this may actually be the very first entirely new English Toy Theatre play of the 21st Century, unless you know differently!

Having said that it is not entirely original, we have based the design on illustrations for a book of fairy tales published by Orlando Hodgson. He was a Toy Theatre publisher although he never published “Puss-in-Boots” as a play.

We hope that you enjoy this. You can also download our information about how to perform Toy Theatre plays on our recent “Robin Hood” post.


A new play for the Toy Theatre

Robin Hood

We have created a new internet version of the play “Robin Hood”, which we first published in 1976. This has A4 size scenery to fit our Grand Theatre and includes a full colour edition as well as a plain edition, if you like colouring yourself. There is also a new note to explain how to perform Toy Theatre plays. All free to download here.

We hope that you enjoy this.

Robin Hood coloured

Robin Hood plain

Robin Hood playbook cover

Robin hood book

Performing toy theatre plays


Wonderful things


One must admire the very welcome initiative of the British Museum to digitise and put many of its treasures on line for anyone in the world to enjoy for free. This includes quite a lot of Toy Theatre prints, including over 60 images from the great publisher William West, which would normally not be seen elsewhere.

If you visit their website and then search the catalogue, you can look at the full entries for everything to get masses of details or just tick the “images only” box.

Put in “Ralph Thomas” to get over 650 items. Many of these “items” consist of multiple sheets such as scenes for a play or in one case a collection of about 50 West combats. Ralph Thomas, a lawyer, sold his collection to the museum in 1886. It is the oldest that exists. William West was still publishing when he was a boy and his mother bought him one copy of every sheet remaining, what a mother! After West’s business folded he managed to buy a box containing the original drawings for some of the very earliest plays. Other treasures that you can actually download include the beautiful coloured scenes for “Battle of Waterloo”, “Olympic Revels”, “Aladdin” and the “Invasion of Russia” and characters for obscure plays.

In addition put in “Toy Theatre” and other items will appear in full glory including a set of Hodgson scenes for “King Richard the Third” that make an interesting comparison with the still available Green version.

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