1897 Pretend Camera

Our Little Ones was a religious tract for children published weekly by the American Baptist Publication Society. This March 28, 1897 issue contained a story called "Taking His Picture". In it, Nellie, Harry and Willie are entertaining themselves on a rainy day. Nellie, the oldest has an idea: "Let's play taking pictures."

"All three went to work to get the camera ready. Harry brought a high stool from the attic. Willie was sent to the kitchen for an empty coffee can. Nellie got a box and some books; very soon the play camera was ready. Harry wanted to be a soldier when he had his picture taken. Nellie made him a cap out of a newspaper. For a sword he used his father's cane.

Harry fixed himself into position. Nellie held the camera, while Willie held up his finger and said: 'Now look at me while I count to three, don't you move.'"

The story ends when the the coffee can, books and box tumble to the floor. Sadly most toy cameras today are battery powered and leave little room for imagination. On the other hand, many kids are now taking real photos with digital cameras.

The engraving of Nellie with her play camera bears a remarkable similarity to the engravings of Alice in the original 1865 edition of Alice in Wonderland drawn by Sir John Tenniel. Tenniel was a prolific cartoonist for Punch from 1850 until 1901 and also illustrated children's books. The Alice of Alice in Wonderland (above left) had an unruly mane of loose hair. In the later, Alice Through the Looking Glass, 1872, (above right), her hair is somewhat curlier and pulled back from her face with a headband. Nellie has the same hair and band. Since the dates coincide, it seems likely that Tenniel illustrated the camera story.