Small 12mo-sized pamphlet (wrapper size 114 x 93 mm). Engraved title plus two sheets, cut and folded accordion style, the first forming 4 “pages,” the top and bottom quarters trimmed and cut to form flaps, each section with two halves of an engraved image on the versos of the flaps, thus visible when the flaps are closed, and another image on the sheet, visible with the flaps open, the closed-flap images with engraved text at top, more extensive text on the rectos of the flaps, visible when the flaps are open; the second sheet trimmed and folded to form an en engraved calendar for 1783, four portraits at outer edges, each showing a pair of royal personnages; title and all engraved images hand-colored under the direction of the publisher. A couple of tiny repairs at flap creases, else in fine condition. Original bright green publisher’s wrappers and original dark green pasteboard slipcase, the sides with blind roll-tooled border, front cover with an onlaid brown pastepaper label, stamped in blind “Ambigu Comique” (small crease to a corner of wrapper). Provenance: Robert de Beauvillain, etched bookplate by Charles Jouas. ***
First Edition of a moveable theater “almanac” for children. Often called “Harlequinades” in English, such small transformation booklets in leporello format were much rarer in France than in England. This one contains scenes and lyrics from two popular comic operas performed by children. This booklet, somewhere between a program and a toy, could no doubt be purchased at the theater by members of the juvenile audience.
In 1762 the actor, impresario, singer and puppeteer Nicolas-Médard Audinot began enchanting audiences with his wooden marionettes at the annual Saint-German fair. His success led him to open a real theater, called the “Ambigu Comique,” in 1769. Soon after opening, according to Soleinne, the players were changed from puppets to real children (!). In honor of these young actors an inscription was added above the entrance door, “Sicut infantes audi nos” (which contemporaries mockingly translated as “Cigit les enfants d’Audinot”: here lie the children of Audinot). A variant of this motto appears on the title-page of this booklet as “Sicut pueri audi nos.”
The title mentions only one of the plays, Le Sérail à l'encan, first performed in 1781, and first published in 1783, attributed variously to Jean François Sedaine de Sarcy (b. 1762) or to Audinot himself and/or his collaborator Jean François Arnould, called Mussot (cf. Barbier, IV, 474). The other play, Le Prince noir et blanc, féerie, by Arnould, was first performed in 1780 and published in 1782.
Two scenes each are shown from each of these singing entertainments. The first (closed) has a a brief caption and the title of the play, while the versos of the flaps display some lyrics and the song titles whose melodies they borrow. In one image from the Sérail, a young woman declaims from a pedestal at the foot of which sit three men in Turkish dress. Opening the flap reveals five more women, in multi-colored gowns, singing in chorus. The first scene from the Prince shows a woman coming upon a rock face among trees, inscribed with a love message. The flap opens to show the same lady atop the rock, with flowers in her hair and three female musicians, while below a fifth woman holding a garland peeks out from behind the rock at a colorfully attired young male flutist.
There is a sadly racist component to the last scene, obviously reflecting the plot of the “Black and White Prince.” In the flap-closed picture a black man kneels in courtship to a lady, who rejects him with her arms outstretched. The opened flaps show him transformed into a bewigged white man, with the lady’s attitude correspondingly changed. This ephemeral flap book for children thus turns out to be a particularly potent witness to the overt racism with which the young were indoctrinated during the very Enlightenment that promoted ideals of equality and fraternity.
Originally based on popular pantomimes, harlequinades maintained an association with the theater. “Harlequinades were produced by a few printmakers at a time of creative experimentation in the late 18th century. Robert Sayer, who produced the first flap book in 1766, experimented with different types of visual images alone and in combinations with words, such as perspective prints, transformation prints, and dissected maps. .... [Some] harlequinades were sold in toy shops. They are one of the earliest texts commercially produced for children that were for amusement. As a type of moveable book the harlequinade is categorized as a hybrid form between book and toy and predates the toy theatre also based on the popular drama” (Reid-Walsh, p. 6).
I locate two other copies of this edition, one at UCLA, with the same engraved calendar, and one in a private collection, with a letterpress calendar for 1783 (with its own imprint, of the printer Cailleau). The booklet was reissued in 1785, with a letterpress calendar for 1786 bearing the imprint of the publisher Valleyre: of that issue OCLC locates copies at the BnF, Houghton Library, and New York Public Library. At least 3 of these copies (Harvard, UCLA and private collection) are also in green wrappers, and the Harvard copy has an identical slipcase.
Gumuchian 2956 (”curieuse et jolie plaquette, rare”). Not in Grand-Carteret. On the plays, cf. Soleinne, Bibliothèque dramatique, III: 225. Cf. Jacqueline Reid-Walsh, “The late 18th century Harlequinade: a migration from stage to book,” a paper given at the fourth Media in Transition conference (Cambridge, MA, 2005, pdf online). Item #4192