by Laura Reeves
Whenever I think of musical books, I think of a Pinocchio book my Mum attempted to read to me when I was a child. Most of the noises were beginning to fail and were slurring and crackly, so Pinocchio sounded evil – the whole book terrified me. I’ve always assumed that musical books were a 90’s phenomenon until I came across ‘The Speaking Picture Book’ at Strangers’ Hall.
At first glance the large book appears to be simply a picture book, filled with short poems about farm animals. However, when you look closer there are small arrows pointing towards the outer edge of the book. These arrows direct the reader to small ivory beads on string, and when you give these a pull, the book makes the noise of the animal! The book can make the noise of a cockerel, a donkey, a lamb, birds, a cow, a cuckoo, a goat, and mamma and papa. Sadly, not of all of the sounds are still working – but I have found a YouTube video where a collector has a fully working copy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JpE0nuPb_YE
‘The Speaking Picture Book’ was originally created in Nuremburg by Theodore Brand. He patented the book in 1878, and the British patent followed in 1879. German, English, French and Spanish translations have been published.
The sounds are created through small paper bellows similar to an accordion. Paper is concertinaed in different ways to create small bellows that can expand and contract to push and pull air, which creates the different animal sounds. There is another YouTube video where someone has opened the mechanism to demonstrate how the bellows work – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6nYA-TxWsTM
If Victorian children had access to speaking books such as this, perhaps the ideal of ‘children must be seen and not heard’ isn’t so true after all?