I have always appreciated old objects, even as a child. Sneaking into abandoned buildings was a hobby of mine as a little girl—and there is no better ground for such adventures than a small Hungarian village. Forgotten treasures like spinning wheels, religious artefacts or old suitcases full of toys under a silky dust blanket were almost guaranteed. [Once I also found an incidentally-mummified tabby cat but that story is for another day.]
Growing up, I was a regular to the antique shops in the nearby town, spending a serious part of my allowance on books of my grandparents’ age. And, of course, there was also our very own collection of tokens of fading family memories, carefully placed in lavishly decorated bonbon boxes grateful for a second life: discoloured photographs of long-dead relatives and their friends. I’m the first one to admit that I’m rather obsessed with this archive—so much so that they inspired an entire master thesis.
Given this, I have a soft spot for initiatives that have something to do with archival photography. One of these wonderful organisations is Europeana Collections, working hard to provide free access to its ever-growing assortment of digitized items, be it music, books or visual arts. Currently, one can easily access about 50 million items through their website with approximately 3.5 million photographs amongst those. [Just imagine the major amount of chocolate cartons they could fill!]
Now, for me, archives provide endless fun. While finding good stuff is time-consuming, it also is terribly rewarding. And quite a good way to make sure I always have something to write about.
The first catalogue in history was published in 1498. Its purpose was to help Aldus Manutius, founder of the famous Aldine Press, to introduce his books to the people of Venice. A few centuries later, prospectuses became part of everyday life, largely helped by the introduction of photography. As printing techniques improved, better and better images could illustrate publications. By the time the creator of this negative was hired for the job, photographs were pretty good-looking in printed matters.
Whether this image was meant for wholesalers or consumers, I cannot know. I can imagine a clumsy photographer, however, trying to make the most out of the situation. They probably had to follow strict guidelines set up by the client—or they simply possessed no creativity whatsoever. And yet, the way the dolls are placed, how their glances meet, their facial expressions tell me a story. If I were a little girl once again, up in an attic, discovering these toys, I would for sure feel my maternal instinct awaken: an urge to save that baby on the right from the other two that are clearly conspiring against their little mate. The universe must have sent me there to intervene, after all!
I wonder what happened to these very playthings. Burnt in a fire? Destroyed by the war? Ended up in a museum; or the ocean? And all the others these three helped to sell: where are they now? Were there any little boys that would have given the world for a chance to play with them in peace? How many little girls hated them secretly? How much joy they must have caused!?
God bless all those people who work in archives, enabling me and the like-minded to rant about an imaginary past. Thank you!