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A fascinating children's geography game from 1827

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MRB/260 - Naturgemählde, Länder- und Völkermerkwürdigkeiten und Erzählungen aus den fünf Theilen der bewohnten Erde : zur Belehrung und Unterhaltung für junge Leser ; mit einem Plane, fünf in Kupfer gestochenen und illuminirten Hauptansichten der fünf Erdtheile, und mit 83 illuminirten und ausgeschnittenen Bildern von Menschen, Thieren, Bäumen und Gewächsen &c., womit man die Haupt-Scenen der Erzählungen theatralisch aufstellen kann, Leopold Chimani, 1827. 

Naturgemählde is the first (and seemingly only) edition of a very rare German-language children’s book printed in Austria by Heinrich Friedrich Müller (1779-1848), a Viennese innovator in printing technology and publisher who produced the first German picture-book. The 1827 Naturgemählde was designed by Austrian educationalist and author-illustrator Leopold Chimani (1774-1844) as an interactive way to teach children geography. This copy of Naturgemählde was acquired by the Library in October 2015. 

Divided into five sections (Europe, Asia, Africa, America, Oceania), the book endeavours to hold the young reader’s attention with spirited accounts in the form of short chapters on social customs, natural phenomena and discoveries by European explorers, interspersed with exciting narratives of adventure dealing with subjects such as pirates, cannibals, volcanoes and wild animals including polar bears, lions and kangaroos.

However, it is the scored grid, or display board, accompanying the printed volume, that provides the most extraordinary aspect of Chimani’s design for the early interactive geography book. It is into this display board that the child is intended to place dozens of coloured cut-out figures, with a backdrop behind, thereby creating five different tableaux to illuminate ‘theatrically’ what he or she has read. Each of the cut-out pieces for use with the 5 tableaux has a Roman numeral printed on the base which indicates the tableau to which it belongs. Coordinates printed on the tab at the foot of each figure show where the figure should be placed on the grid. The cut outs can be manipulated to create an endless variety of exciting factual, or fanciful, scenes of faraway places.

The Oceania tableaux (now on show in AMAZE) has a total of 16 pieces and shows two European figures – Captain James Cook and Georg Forster – encountering South Sea natives. Of these 16 pieces, Captain Cook is depicted as the figure in the red jacket, one represents two Europeans (including Forster), three depict Australian Aborigines, one represents a Maori man, one represents a Tahitian couple, three represent structures (two dwellings, one of which could possibly depict an Aboriginal shelter, and one possibly the fence to a Maori compound), and the remaining five represent various types of vegetation, from small flowering plants to palm trees and perhaps an Australian native tree (eucalyptus).

The exploits of Captain James Cook were greatly admired world-wide with his journals providing sources for informative accounts about his three Pacific voyages for both children and adults. In 1772-75, when Joseph Banks refused to sail on Cook’s second expedition, the naturalist Johann Reinhold Forster (1729-1798) took his place, his son Georg Forster (1754-1794) accompanied him as his assistant. It was Cook’s triumphant return from his second circumnavigation – the arduous and challenging three year Antarctic voyage of the Resolution (1772-1775) – that made him the most accomplished explorer of the eighteenth century.

In March 1787, eight years after Cook’s death in Hawaii, Georg Forster completed his German translation of the official account of Cook’s third voyage which included his introductory essay, Cook der Endecker, drawn from his personal experience of sailing with the second voyage. Fifty years on, the Viennese producers of this unique German-language publication were sufficiently astute to exploit this nationalistic connection to eighteenth century Europe’s greatest explorer.

The America tableau depicts a frontier fort and indigenous people, in Africa a lion chases a man while in Asia mischievous monkeys play as a tiger tussles with a snake.

Naturgemählde  is currently on display in the Library's AMAZE gallery on Level 1.