Tall Stories

From Cinderella to Faust

From 24 June to 5 October 2014, the exhibition ‘Tall Stories – Five Centuries of Storytelling’ will be on display at the Special Collections of the University of Amsterdam.

The exhibition shows how stories such as Cinderella, Gulliver’s Travels, Till Eulenspiegel, Cartouche and Faust have been handed down from the eighteenth century up until the present. Special attention is given to catchpenny prints and how this form of popular culture has contributed to keeping our storytelling tradition alive.

Catchpenny print

Print (detail) from the collection of Nico Boerma

Catchpenny prints

Catchpenny prints were printed on cheap paper and contained illustrations accompanied by a brief text. They were an important medium in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and played a huge role in making stories popular and passing them down from generation to generation.

The exhibition focuses on the collections  the Dutch collectors of popular printed matter Arie van den Berg and Nico Boerma, and includes several remarkable pieces from the collection of the former Netherlands Theatre Institute (TIN). A special magic lantern, optical cabinet and wooden storage bags are also on display. A mini-documentary in which collectors and curators share their stories serves as an introduction to the exhibition.

NWO research project

Jeroen Salman, researcher at Utrecht University, is carrying out a study into popular culture and has received an NWO subsidy for the project ‘Popularisation and Media Strategies (1700–1900)’. This project analyses the process of selection and adaptation in Dutch popular literature during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Research for this project is centred on songs and catchpenny prints. One of the outcomes of the research project is the Tall Stories exhibition. Salman is closely involved in the exhibition as guest curator.

Collaboration with the Meertens Institute

Especially for Tall Stories, the University of Amsterdam’s ErfgoedLab, a space designated as a laboratory for experimentation with heritage concepts, has been renamed MeertensLab. A joint effort between UvA and the Meertens Institute (research institute for Dutch language and culture), MeertensLab is aimed at the promotion of storytelling research. In this area of the exhibition, the spotlight is on two twentieth-century collectors of stories and songs, Dam Jaarsma and Ate Doornbosch. Visitors are treated to a short documentary and mini-exhibition about the collectors and will be able to listen to songs and stories from their collections in the Meertens Institute databases.


Publishing house Vantilt will be issuing an accompanying book by Jeroen Salman with contributions from Roeland Harms and Talitha Verheij entitled Sterke verhalen. Vijf eeuwen vertelcultuur (Tall Stories: Five Centuries of Storytelling). ISBN 978 94 6004 168 6, €19.95. Design of the exhibition and book by Joost Grootens.

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Published by  Special Collections UvA

30 June 2014