Lonely Planet Writer

The Victoria and Albert Museum has acquired the world’s largest collection of paper peepshows

The world’s largest collection of paper peepshows – dioramas made of paper and fabric that can be viewed through a small hole – has been acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

The Interior of the Crystal Palace in London, German, 1851 (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London. All pieces accepted under the Cultural Gifts Scheme by HM Government from the collections of Jacqueline Gestetner and Jonathan Gestetner and allocated to the Victoria and Albert Museum, 2016.
The Interior of the Crystal Palace in London, German, 1851 (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London. All pieces accepted under the Cultural Gifts Scheme by HM Government from the collections of Jacqueline Gestetner and Jonathan Gestetner and allocated to the Victoria and Albert Museum, 2016. Image by Dennis Crompton

The peepshows are like a pocket-sized stage set, according to the museum, with a backdrop and cut out scenes, often depicting landscapes or historic scenes. They expand in order to give the illusion of depth.

River Thames and Tunnel, British, ca.1843 (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
River Thames and Tunnel, British, ca.1843 (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Image by Dennis Crompton

The collection includes 360 paper peepshows and was given to the V&A under the Cultural Gifts Scheme, a government initiative to encourage gifts to the UK’s public collections. The pieces were collected by Jacqueline and Jonathan Gestetner over a 30-year-period and is now part of the V&A’s research collection.

National on St Helena. British 1830 (c) Victoria and Albert Museum London.
National on St Helena. British 1830 (c) Victoria and Albert Museum London. Image by Dennis Crompton

Peepshows, which were first made back in the 1820s, were often sold as souvenirs as they “offered a glimpse into a choice of vistas, celebrating particular events, famous places or engineering feats”.

The Interior of the Crystal Palace in London, German, 1851 (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
The Interior of the Crystal Palace in London, German, 1851 (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Image by Dennis Crompton

The collection will be digitised and people will be able to search it online at the National Art Library Catalogue website, and anyone wishing to see them can view them by appointment at the National Art Library.

Masquerade Haymarket published by S.J. Fuller London ca. 1826 (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Masquerade Haymarket published by S.J. Fuller London ca. 1826 (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Image by Dennis Crompton

The V&A was opened in 1852 and houses the world’s largest collection of decorative arts in its 100 galleries, such as Asian ceramics, Middle Eastern rugs and much more.