Princely Toys

Princely Toys is a BBC documentary from 1976. It explores the subject of automatons; antique animated dolls manufactured for the upper classes of the 19th century. The film centers around the collection of a man named Jack Donovan, but primarily focuses on the automatons themselves. The narrator talks in an odd cryptic fashion as the aged VHS footage ushers you into the yesterworld of monkey-masked musicians, half-human harlequins and other abominations from your childhood nightmares. Many toys have their own segment and an in-depth explanation is given by the narrator. He describes the toys in detail as the film zooms in on their unforgiving mechanical eyes darting about as their stiff little limbs jerk and sway to the sounds of antique music boxes perfectly tuned to conjure demons from beyond. Most of the footage is shot in an empty studio with a minimal amount of lighting to give the viewer the illusion that each toy was filmed in it’s own personal abyss of darkness. Putting aside the creepy overtones (did I mention that one of the dolls is a man hacking a woman’s bloody torso with a butcher knife?) it’s amazing how intricate and detailed the dolls’ movements are and it’s hard to believe that their animation comes from tiny hidden gears and other simple machines. After watching it I was surprised to find that there doesn’t seem to be hardly any information available on this documentary. Just about the only reference a google search comes up with is this youtube video (below), which, as of this writing clocks in at a meer 135 views.

If any of this sounds at all interesting, I highly recommend watching the video. Also, if anyone knows of a higher quality version or has interesting info on Princely Toys, please inform me in the comments section!

On a related note, I’ve been reading an interesting book called Living Dolls which details interesting stories and the history of similar, yet less creepy, automated oddities.

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One Response to “Princely Toys”

  1. I love this doco, sadly haven’t found higher quality, but you can semi fill a gap in the film with the automata of cleopatra. As for what happened to Jacks Collection? It seems a fair bit ended up in the York Automata Museum, including the samurai, and since that closed it’s possible some of it ended up in Japan. I’d love to know what happened to the one he was working on with the wire eyebrows. If anyone has any info you can email me at hevvic@gmail.com

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