V&A’s peepshow gift

The world’s largest collection of peepshows – paper miniature dioramas – has been acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum under a new scheme to encourage life-time giving with tax incentives.


There are over 360 peepshows, mostly 19th century and spanning 12 countries in the collection amassed by Jacqueline and Jonathan Gestetner over 30 years. It has been allocated under the Cultural Gifts Scheme introduced in 2013 whereby UK taxpayers can give items of art and antiquity to the nation during their lifetime in return for tax reductions, a variation of the Acceptance in Lieu which accepts gifts in lieu of inheritance tax after the donor’s death.

Peepshows are small concertinaed recreations often of stage sets or landscapes made with precise detail and in perspective to give a life-like perception. The oldest, Teleorama No 1 made in Austria by H F Müller in 1824-25, and represents a garden.

“This collection is a real treasure trove and makes a wonderful addition to our holdings, which focus particularly on the art of the book” said Dr Catherine Yvard, special collections curator at the V&A’s National Art Library.

“Peeping into one of these tunnel-books is like stepping into another world, travelling through time and space. In an instant you can join Napoleon on the Island of St Helena or a rowdy masquerade on London’s Haymarket. Peepshows were 19th century virtual reality. They offer wonderful insights into social history. Considering that most of them would have been made quite cheaply, it is a miracle that so many have survived.”

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