The Speaking Picture Book (1893) by Theodore Brand

Image of the front cover of The Speaking Picture Book. The red cover is framed by a faded black border that uses leaf and floral elements, the pattern is repetitive and symmetrical. The inner border is white with the same black floral pattern. The corners are more lavish and have solid orange circles with 6-petal flowers. The center of the cover is of a young girl reading a book with her dog. They are sitting against the trunk of a tree with full, green leaves – a couple of robins sit in the branches. The green grass is a bit overgrown, with a rose garden nearby. A family of white doves peck at the ground in the foreground. The child is wearing an orange dress, grey knee-high socks, and simple black shoes. Her hair is brown and in a curly ponytail. In her lap, she is reading a picture book and holding a doll that looks like her. To her left is a ball and a wicker basket of cookies. To her right is her dog, which looks like a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel with a reddish-brown coat, a white chest, and white front legs. Above the image of the girl and her dog is the title, The Speaking Picture Book, in golden-yellow lettering.
Image of page 3 from The Speaking Picture Book. The left page is of The Lamb, artist unknown but maybe Theodore Brand. The Lamb is white, and the artist painted the soft texture of his coat. The Lamb is walking through a green field, through wildflowers in shades of red, orange, yellow, and blue. The Lamb is looking to his left with his mouth slightly open. He is wearing a blue collar with a golden bell. The background is of a wildly growing oak tree, the leaves in various shades of green and red. The oval portrait is framed by a simple golden-yellow rectangular frame, the corners look like carved wood, almost like ram horns, but in the same golden-yellow color. The corners are orange with greenery and white flowers. The right page is text, the poem is titled ‘The Lamb’ and reads: Naughty little lamb, now you have lost your way; If you had listened to Mama and heard what she did say; You would not cry so sad all day: mah, mah, mah, mah! In the right margin, there is an arrow that points to a tassel that would be hanging off the right side of the book. When someone pulls the tassel, the instrument hidden inside makes a ‘mah’ sound, similar to a young lamb.
Image of the internal mechanism of The Speaking Picture Book. The compartment is about two inches deep and split into three columns. Each compartment holds two or three bellows made of light-colored wood and paper, probably cardboard. Six out of seven bellows have been repaired with blue painter's tape. Several bellows have been hot-glued back together or secured to the wall of their respective compartments. Each bellow has a different-sized nozzle respective to the sound it would have made.

Nineteenth-century Europe saw soaring literacy rates in their adults, but parents also wanted their children to read. As a result, several notable books were published, like Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Orbis Sensualium Pictus (1658). People then became interested in the possibility of there being art in books, and how it would influence young readers. This is where people like Randolph Caldecott and Kate Greenaway came onto the scene, working to create eye-catching illustrations to accompany familiar words. Toy books, like pop-up and speaking picture books, were introduced and quickly became an entertaining way to introduce children to reading. Originally published in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1893, The Speaking Picture Book was the first of its kind. While originally published in German, it was also produced in English, French, and Spanish. F. A. O. Schwartz – a still famous New York toy store – distributed it in America; while H. Grevel & Co. handled the European market with ease.

Inside, there are 8 full-color illustrations of a rooster, a donkey, a lamb, birds, a cow, a cuckoo bird, a goat, and Mamma and Papa, each faced by a page of text in verse. On every page margin, there is an arrow that points to a string that is pulled to operate the mechanism hidden inside the book. When you pull and release the appropriate string, you are greeted by the sound representative of the illustration – the cow moos and the birds chirp!

How does it work? Think of an accordion. When you pull the string, a small bellow fills with air; when you release it, it compresses and air passes through nozzles and reeds, creating the appropriate sound. Unfortunately, the de Grummond copy has seen some wear and tear in its 131 years of existence, and not every mechanism works properly. Before coming to us, someone tried to repair the bellows with hot glue and painter's tape, and it is because of this repair that the book is still somewhat operational. Time has been rough to this amazing book, but it is still amazing. Watch this video on our Instagram (@usmdegrum) to see – or, rather, hear – this book in action!

An 1893 copy of The Speaking Picture Book is housed with the de Grummond Children's Literature Collection, call number PZ 8.3 .S73 1893. For more information on this item, contact Marge Sauls at .
Haining, P. (1979). Movable books an illustrated history: Pages and pictures of folding, revolving, dissolving, mechanical, scenic, Panoramic, dimensional, changing, pop-up and other novelty books from the collection of David ANF Briar Philips. New English Library.

Text by Marge Sauls, Collections Specialist of the de Grummond Children's Literature Collection.