‘Toddie’s Merry-Go-Round’ one of a series of ‘cut, fold and build’ paper toys by Edinburgh publishers Gall & Inglis 1918. Image credit: Cambridge University Library

We are currently completing a Heritage Lottery Funded project 'WW1 Paper Toys' that has involved children and families learning about the First World War through making paper toys published during this era. We first learnt about this little known heritage during a research commission undertaken at the V&A Museum of Childhood in London. The commission primarily involved researching the Robert Freidus Collection of Paper Models to discover techniques and construction toys that we could use within our work with children. During this time we had access to additional resources on paper toys and Imagerie D'Epinal paper models, including some that the French company published during the Great War, that led us to explore paper toys produced as part of war propaganda during the Great War. 

‘Paper Toys’ one of a series of ‘cut, fold and build’ paper toys by Edinburgh publishers Gall & Inglis, 1918

We were unable to reproduce Imagerie D'Epinal within this project due to copyright restrictions (the company is still trading). Fortunately, we located a collection of paper toys in Cambridge University's Library that then enabled us to bring these heritage models to the wider public within our art workshops for this project. Cambridge University Library hold a vast collection of childrens books that were discovered within their tower store as part of a Heritage Lottery Fund project. Amongst this Cambridge collection are a series of paper craft kits called 'Toddie's Toy Boxes' published by Gall & Inglis, who were known as publishers of cycling maps prior to their involvement in children's toys.
Paper toy soldiers and fort cut out and coloured by participant within workshop from ‘Paper Toys’ 
by Edinburgh publishers Gail & Inglis
‘The Storybook of Silhouettes’ by Clara Andrews: drawings by George Alfred Williams. Published London: W & R Chambers Ltd, 1914

We also found pop-up books about German Zeppelin airships and lavishly illustrated books by Clara Andrews and George Alfred Williams featuring cut-out characters and props, including furniture, for children to cut, fold and make, published in the UK.
Wolf character from ‘Little Red Riding-Hood’ from ‘The Storybook of Silhouettes’
Primary school pupil cutting out a Red Riding-Hood silhouette from ‘The Storybook of Silhouettes’

Pig character from ‘The Story of the Three Pigs’ from ‘The Storybook of Silhouettes’ in a shadow theatre box

Online research led us to the discovery of a series of American paper toys originally published by the Chicago Ledger that the Villanova University have made available to use under a creative commons license. This collection focused on the vehicles that innovated during the Great War: planes, submarines, armoured cars and battleships. These are a reminder that the First World War was the first fully mechanised war. 

Paper toy planes proved to be the most popular choice during paper toy workshops 
at The Guildhall Museum, Rochester, Kent

We found that these American paper toy models required greater dexterity to make than the British toys we had located, which tended towards simplified die-cut kits that required minimal skills to construct. However, Toddie's 'Paper Toys and How to Make Them' included some complex models. Paper toys acted as a creative way in which making skills and hand dexterity could be harnessed in children, young people and adults for the needs of the manufacturing industries as part of the war effort. This resonates with contemporary concerns about dwindling levels of hand motor skills in children and young people. We found that families participating in our paper toy making workshops commonly commented that these activities provided positive benefits in improving the skills of their children whilst also learning about a significant historical event. It also brought together different generations actively involved in making the paper toys together as a team.
Cutout of an American Tank, Chicago Ledger, v.XLVI, no.27, Saturday, July 6, 1918. 
Attribution: Digital Library@Villanova University
Paper toys used within exhibitions and workshops. These include a series of ‘cut, fold and build’ paper toys by Edinburgh publishers Gall & Inglis and ‘The Doll’s Play-House’ by Clara Andrews: drawings by George Alfred Williams

Following our series of workshops and pop-up exhibitions we are now currently in the process of digitising these toys, along with the additional resources unearthed during this project. We will be making this research accessible on our website and hope that it will be a useful inspiration for people interested in this subject. 
Paper toys by French publisher Imagerie D’Epinal exhibited at The Guildhall Museum, Rochester, Kent
One of the displays exhibited in shop windows for an Art Trail of WW1 Paper Toys in Rochester, Kent to coincide with Centenary Armistice parades during November 2018

This project has been supported by First World War: Then and Now Heritage Lottery Fund.