Do our readers remember all those ingenious toys which our mothers and sisters improvised in order to amuse us? We took a walk into the country, and our eldest sister or our mother picked a wild poppy, turned its red petals back and encircled them with a thread, and stuck a sprig of grass into the seed vessel to represent a headdress of feathers. Here was a fresh and pretty doll (Fig. 1). Another day it was the season of lilacs. The children gathered branches by the armful, and from these the mother picked off the flowers and strung them one by one with a needle. Here was a bracelet or a necklace. An acorn was picked up in the woods, the mother carved it with a pen-knife, and behold a basket. From a nutshell she made a boat, and from a green almond a rabbit. Sometimes she carved the rabbit's ears out of the almond itself, but in most cases they were made from a pretty rose-colored radish.
FIG. 1. - Doll made of a Wild Poppy.
Do you remember the cork from which, by the aid of a few long needles for bars, an ingenious fly-cage was formed? And the castle of cards, four, five, and eight stories high? And then those famous card tents in a row, that fell one after another when the first one in the line was overturned?
FIG. 2. - Hygrometric Doll; its Dress Colored with Chloride of Cobalt.
How we passed the evenings with our eyes fixed upon our mothers, who patiently, with their skillful scissors, cut horses and dogs out of old white, red, and blue cards! And how many plays, without costing a cent, served to amuse the children by exercising their ingenuity! The mother marked at hazard five dots upon a sheet of paper. The question was to draw a man, one of the dots showing the place of the head and the other four the feet and hands.
FIG. 3. - Old Man made of Lobster's Claws.
When the dessert was brought upon the table, it became a question of manufacturing a head out of an orange. That is not very difficult; two holes for the eyes, a large slit for the mouth, and nothing easier than to simulate the teeth and nose. The head was placed upon a napkin stretched over the top of a champagne glass. This was one of our great amusements. The napkin was drawn ultimately to the right and left, and this moved the head and caused it to assume most comical positions. But what caused irresistible laughter was when a sly hand pressed the head and made it open its mouth wide. And then what pigs we manufactured with a lemon perched upon four matches!
FIG. 4. - Crocus Flowering in a Perforated Pot.
Without mentioning Chinese shadows, how many cheap amusements there are that can be varied to infinity merely by various combinations of the fingers interlocked in diverse manners!
FIG. 5. - 1. Paper Cross. 2. Method of Making the Cross. 3. Rabbits Made of Green Almonds. 4. Basket Made of Sedges. 5. Acorn Basket. 6. Fly-cage Made of aa Cork.">
All such amusements were much in vogue in former times, but we are assured that to-day mothers are less conversant with these curious and droll inventions, which were once transmitted like the tales of Mother Goose. They buy playthings for their children at great expense, and allow the latter to amuse themselves all by themselves. The toy paid for and given, the child is no longer in their mind. Those mothers who have preserved the traditions of these little pastimes, and know how to skillfully vary them, find therein so many resources for amusing their children. Then it is so pleasant to see the eyes of the latter eagerly fixed upon the scissors, and to hear their exclamations of pleasure and their fresh laughter when the paper is transformed under expert fingers into a boat, house, or what not!
FIG. 6. - The Lesson in Drawing. - An Illustrated Five-spot of Hearts.
It has required millions of mothers and nurses to put their wits to work to amuse their children in order to form that collection of charming combinations that at present constitutes a sort of science. Mr. Gaston Tissandier not long ago conceived the happy idea of bringing together in an illustrated volume a description of some of these improvised toys and amusing plays, and it is from this that the accompanying illustrations (which sufficiently explain themselves) are taken.