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I picked this interesting little print up at auction a couple of weeks ago. Although it’s not the sort of thing that I would normally have been drawn to – being Victorian rather than Georgian and apolitical to boot – I found the idea of a movable print so engaging that I decided to blow the dust off my wallet and take it home anyway. The print’s title is The Village School Mistress, it was lithographed engraved by R. Evan Sly (fl. 1839 – 1847) and published by Charles Edmonds of 154 Strand (fl. 1845 – 1847). Sadly this was one school mistress that was showing every sign of her 170 years, and a programme of cosmetic surgery that Dolly Parton would have been proud of was called for in order to make the old girl presentable again.

The toy consists of a single piece of paper with three holes covering the face of the school mistress, her pupil and the text book. Behind it sits a paper wheel which can be rotated to change the faces of the characters and the letters displayed on the book’s pages. If you look at the photograph of the rear of the print you will note that the wheel is held in place by a strip of paper which also has text printed on its verso, indicating that it was probably recycled from the publisher’s leftover stock of books, pamphlets or magazines in order to save money. As the subheading of the print indicates, the wheel can be turned to produce 34 different different sets of faces.img_0772

R.E. Sly is something of a mystery. His career seems to have begun during the late 1830s, when he is known to have published at least one humorous print from an address near St Pancras. It’s possible that he was a relation of the engraver and printer Stephen Sly, who was active at exactly the same time and operated from premises located off Fleet Street and later in Soho. Few of Sly’s prints appear to have survived but those that have suggest that he was working as a jobbing engraver by the mid-1840s and that he may have specialised in moving prints such as this.

Thanks to surviving trade advertisements we know a little more about the nature of Edmonds’ business. According to the following advertisement, from an 1845 issue of the Spectator magazine, he sold:

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Note the reference to the “curious and very entertaining mechanical print”.

154 Strand had been home to publishers and booksellers for almost a decade before Edmonds arrived on the scene. In May 1836 the premises had been acquired by William Blackwood, publisher of the Lady’s Blackwood Magazine of Fashion, who remained there until March 1844 when ownership transferred to the “publisher, bookseller, printseller and stationer” Thomas Houlston [1.] Houlston published a variety of different prints, on subjects ranging from courtoom portraiture to sentimental potboilers, however he also commissioned a series of “New & Amusing Mechanical Prints” from R. Evan Sly. Only a handful of these survive, one of which can be found in the British Museum’s collection and another in an old online auction catalogue from 2005.

The fact that Edmond’s continued to publish the series after he took over the shop at 154 Strand in April 1845, is probably indicative of a wholesale takeover of Houlston’s business, with Edmonds’ perhaps being a former employee or junior partner of the shop’s former owner. In the end, Edmonds’ was to remain in business for just two and a-half years before being declared bankrupt in November 1847.

I’ve added this print to my for sale section. Click at the link on the top of the page or here for more details.

  1. The Standard 28th May 1836, Morning Post 1st January 1844, Morning Chronicle 29th March 1844,  Morning Chronicle 14th April 1845, York Herald, and General Advertiser 27th November 1847.
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