Sunday, December 8, 2013

Fairy City, 1919

 Kwei-lin Lum just sent me pictures of a remarkable new acquisition to her collection: "Fairy City and A Story of The Giants of Lilliputania." Here's Kwei-lin with more information:
It's a paper toy miniature city from 1919 which was designed by a man who had designed paper dolls in 1917.  His full name was Will Pente and I suspect that his wife Meta was a suffragette.  He seems to have been quite the dreamer.  The set comes with a small booklet written (not particularly well) by Will Pente from 1916 which is the story on which this set is based.  I see that it came out in a full book in 1917, now rare and with color illustrations, where Will Pente was a collaborator but the author was H.S. Tibbs. 

Inside: a  large cardboard city map, "The Giants of Lilliputania, An Animated Fairy Tale," which includes a standing backdrop of a river view panorama,  24 pre-cut cardboard buildings of stores, city hall, opera house, school, and garage.  To punch-out: a giant Irish policeman, German professor, Chinese laundryman, full circus, fire truck, airplane, hot air balloon, and passenger cars.  The tallest structure is the Woman’s Temple. Kwei-lin's research found that a huge 12-story Women’s Temple in Chicago was built in 1892 as the headquarters of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union; it was demolished in 1926.  Kwei-lin notes that this paper toy came out just before Prohibition and the passage of the 19th amendment, which gave women the vote. 

Fascinating indeed. A few years ago, I read a book called "Last Call," by Daniel Okrent, about how the Prohibition and suffragist movements converged -- women were the force behind banning alcohol which destroyed so many families, and it empowered them to fight for the vote as well. And "Lilliput" as a word to describe something small came out of Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels," the great 18th-century political satire. I also appreciate the ethnic groups represented here, albeit in stereotype -- this was during the great wave of European immigration to the U.S. 

Click on the photos to enlarge, and find such gems as "Groceries -- Adam Hustler," or "I.M. Pillman -Druggist."

More from Kwei-lin:
This set was on exhibit at an architectural exhibit space in Montreal about 15 years ago and the curator noted the industrial nature of the buildings.  The Woman's Temple is far more modern than the one in Chicago.  The street- front windows have weird stuff, including a harp and maybe a drum, guns, and barrel, feels a little masonic.  And then there's Lung Laundry with a Chop Suey restaurant on the second floor. . .

Thank you for sharing this with us, Kwei-lin! A great find. 


  1. This is a truly magical toy set that I was fortunate enough to find years ago at an antique show. The 'Fire Chief Puff' figure became for a time the logo of our volunteer fire department and the Hook & Ladder Truck was featured on our uniforms & shirts. The lithography in the diorama base & background is just spectacular and pictures cannot give the sense of scale it displays. I just wish I had the original booklet that came with it, but that was sadly missing when this set came into my possession. Perhaps then I could make some actual sense of this 'game'.

  2. Thank you so much for this informative post.
    I also have one of these beautiful toys. The colors remain bright and beautiful. I would love to scan it but some of the folds have begun to tear and I am afraid to try to flatten it.

  3. In going through the ephemera of my late mother in law's estate, I came across this game that seems to have all of pieces and parts. Would anyone be able to advise me on what I should do with it? It's so fascinating, I would love to preserve it for future generations!

    1. Hi Leslie, I think you can do one of two things: donate it to a historical museum of society that specializes in antique and vintage games (the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, NY, comes to mind) or you might sell it to a collector who cherishes this kind of antique. If you're on Facebook, you can join The Ephemera Page and Paper Doll Convention Chatter, both of which have members who collect games of all kinds. Let me know how it goes!