Monday, September 19, 2011

A Short History of Pop-Up Books

The first movable books actually predate the print culture. The earliest known examples of such interactive mechanisms are by Ramón Llull (c.1235-1316) of Majorca, a Catalán mystic and poet. His works contain volvelles or revolving discs, which he used to illustrate his complex philosophical search for truth. Volvelles were utilized from Llull's time through to the eighteenth century for manuscripts and in printed books. They illustrated a variety of topics, including natural science, astronomy, mathematics, mysticism, fortune telling, navigation, and medicine. 


Other types of movables, in particular "turn-up" or "lift-the-flap" mechanisms, were in use as early as the fourteenth century. They were especially helpful in books on anatomy, where separate leaves, each featuring a different section of the body, could be hinged together at the top and attached to a page. This technique enabled the viewer to unfold, for instance, multiple depths of a torso, from ribcage to abdomen to spine. One spectacular example of an anatomical movable is Andreas Vesalius' De humani corporis fabrica librorum epitome, printed in Basel in 1543. It features a movable illustration in which the human anatomy is shown in seven detailed superimposed layers.

Movable books were not created for juvenile audiences until the early nineteenth century. In fact, children's books were not published on a large scale until the latter half of the eighteenth century, when publisher John Newbery began selling books specifically for children.
In the1820s, miniature portrait painter William Grimaldi developed another type of "lift-the-flap" book referred to as a toilet book. He initially devised the idea by sketching articles from his daughter's dressing table as representations of specific virtues. The articles served as flaps, which, when lifted up, revealed scenes illustrating each virtue. Grimaldi's son Stacy published the first book in 1821. Entitled The Toilet, it enjoyed great popularity and inspired other publishers release imitations.

Although the early kinds of movables described above are extremely scarce, a number of copies have survived. Images of these early books can be found in Sten G. Lindberg's "Mobiles in Books: Volvelles, Inserts, Pyramids, Divinations and Children's Games" (The Private Library, 3rd series, vol. 2), Peter Haining's Movable Books: An Illustrated History, and Blair Whitton's Paper Toys of the World.
One German illustrator made a name for himself in the world of movable books - Lothar Meggendorfer. Meggendorfer entered into the publishing business in 1866 as a writer and illustrator for the humor magazine Flying Pages, which was similar to England's Punch. In the 1880s he started his long running paper, entitled The Meggendorfer Pages. His first movable was Living Pictures (1878), which he originally created for his son Adolf as a Christmas present. He went on to illustrate and engineer as many as two hundred movable books. His books were published in both German and English editions, and were adjusted for the separate markets.

Dean and Son was the first publisher to produce movable books on a large scale. Thomas Dean, who founded the firm sometime before 1800, was one of the first publishers to take full advantage of the new printing process, lithography, which was invented in Germany in 1798. His business was devoted exclusively to making and selling novelty books, or "toy" books, a term publishers began using in the early nineteenth century. His son George became a partner in 1847, and their toy books took over the market from the 1840s to the 1880s.

During the nineteenth century, the French took an early interest in paper dolls and went on to produce fine paper toys, including movables. The publisher A. Capendu of Paris released several movables under the series Libraire enfantine illustrée. Some were "pull-out" books, in the style of McLoughlin's Little Showman's Series. However, the series also included "pull-the-tab" movables, similar to those of Meggendorfer. Le Chaperon rouge, or Little Red Riding Hood, is an example of a tab operated movable from the series.

In the 1930s, Blue Ribbon Publishing of New York worked with talented artists and engineers to produce a successful series of imaginative pop-ups. Many of the books' colorful characters were inspired by the recent popularity of Walt Disney animation. Notably, Blue Ribbon introduced term "pop-up" to market their books.

During the 1940s, Julian Wehr animated a number of movable books for several American publishers. His designs were all operated by tabs, which moved various parts of the illustration. While most tabs in early movables were located at the bottom of the pages and operated by pulling down, Wehr's designs were more flexible than traditional "pull-the-tab" books.

Voitech Kubasta was an artist for Artia, a state-run import/export company in Prague. In the 1950s and 1960s, he engineered and illustrated pop-up books for Artia that were marketed throughout the world by Bancroft and Company of London. Kubasta created colorful, engaging designs that often accompanied fairy tales.
Due to the popularity of Kubasta's books in the 1950s and 1960s, American Waldo Hunt wanted to publish them in the United States. However, the producer, Artia, was located in Czeckoslavakia, and exporting directly from a Warsaw Pact country to the United States was prohibited. Instead, in 1965 Hunt created his own company, Graphics International, which produced pop-up books for Random House. In 1969, Hallmark Cards took over Graphics International; and, after producing over forty titles with Hallmark, Hunt left to start another company, Intervisual Communications. Today, Intervisual Communications, or ICI, produces a large number of the pop-up books on the market. 

Current designers, paper engineers, and illustrators work with a company like ICI to produce a model for a publisher, but the books are constructed by hand in Mexico, South America, or Singapore. Although a pop-up book's design and construction is a group effort, several names, such as Robert Sabuda, Nick Bantock, Jan Pienkowski, and David Pelham, are well-known for their artistry and innovative techniques in the pop-up book world.


  1. Hi, nice blog!i love the pop up with the birds! Do you know the title or the author?
    Thank you

  2. The book name is Richard Leakey's "Beyond the 6th Extinction: A Fifth Millennium Bestiary", and the book is is constructed by Shawn Sheehy of handmade, hand-dyed cotton/abaca paper, book board and linen thread. The type was set digitally in Joanna and letterpress printed from polymer plates.
    Thanks for the interest!!

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