NEW YORK – Movable books feature dramatic, three-dimensional or moving parts that readers can manipulate. Through the 16th and 17th centuries, adults commonly used volvelles, parchment or paper wheel charts fitted with information-filled revolving discs, to decipher secret codes, plot the planets, explore mystical theories, and calculate dates of movable feasts. As the science of medicine advanced, anatomical flap books, featured superimposed illustrations covering, then revealing, concealed marvels of the human body.
Children had long enjoyed listening to tales and fables. Books illustrating morality tales and extoling maidenly virtues expressly for them, however, did not appear until the mid-1700s. To add to their appeal, publishers incorporated interactive movable paper mechanisms. Their pull tabs nodded heads and waved hands, while split flap-pages altered illustrations in pace with text, and lift flaps or slats changed illustrations entirely. In time, simple page turns, through secreted paper scaffolding, raised characters magically to their feet.
Toward the turn of the century, Imagerie d’Epinal, a French printing company, introduced movable, hand-colored woodcuts based on popular folk, storybook and military themes. Soon after, people began exchanging similar German and British copper-engraved holiday and greeting cards. Some of their mechanisms were complex, featuring levers that simultaneously activated many movable parts.
Pocket-size peepshow books, evoking larger peephole boxes once popular at fairs and festivals across Europe, followed. Their progressive, overlapping, hand-painted page sets, bound by silken, concertina-like hinges, not only produced three-dimensional illusions in lifelike perspective. They whisked their viewers far and wide, from Queen Victoria’s Coronation and Paris by Night to Down the Rabbit Hole. On marking the 1843 inauguration of the Thames Tunnel, all tunnel-like movables were dubbed tunnel books. In time, these charmers, some offering multiple peepholes, variable lighting and changeable views, graced many a Victorian mantelpiece.
At this time too, London-based Dean and Son mass-produced novelty Movable Toy Books, lavishly colored through innovative, oil-based chromolithography. Some reinforced moral and social norms through tabbed or venetian blind-like character transformations. Others featured cutout sections connected by ribbons folded flat which, dramatically – with a flip of a flap –raised sculptural paper “peepshows.”
From the 1880s, Raphael Tuck, in addition to lavishly lithographed die-cut paper dolls and movable paper toys, published almost 100 moveable books under the title Father Tuck. Many, in addition to pull tabs and peep-shows mechanisms, featured multilayered, three-dimensional illustrations.
A decade later, Ernest Nister, based in Nuremburg, published sentimental creations in both German and English. Many feature multiple animating levers, circular pinwheel mechanics, or slatted, “dissolving,” peekaboo views.
Lothar Meggendorfer’s whimsical works, however, may contain the most innovative, ingenious paper mechanisms ever created. In many, intricate interlocking parts open eyes, drop jaws, extend arms, chop wood, catch fish, rock babies, and more, to the accompaniment of amusing verse. In others, single, wired, riveted pull tabs activate multiple (hidden) levers that animate as many as five illustrations simultaneously. International Circus, however, is Meggendorfer’s masterpiece. Though initially lying flat like any movable book, it unfolds, accordion-like, into a continuous, semicircular, six-act panorama. Lift-flaps on each of its panels reveal three-dimensional images of colorful, near-lifelike performers, spectators, circus acts, as well as an orchestra.
Because these – and all fragile movable books – were enjoyed by eager little hands, surviving copies have often sustained smudges, nicks, dents, discoloring, missing tabs or tears. Those in prime condition are both rare and costly.
During World War I, publication of German movable books ceased. British creations reappeared in 1929, with S. Louis Giraud’s Express Children’s Annuals and Bookana Stories. These handcrafted “living models,” in addition to tabs, folds and flaps, feature page turns that spring up into imaginative, stand-alone, three-dimensional double-page spreads viewable from all angles. Other surprises abound. “The Circus Clown,” for instance, features a 3-D acrobat who, at page turn, not only loops a 3-D pole, but (stuck in a loop) continues looping long afterwards. These brightly colored, popular creations, though lacking delicacy and detail of earlier European ones, remain highly collectible.
During the Great Depression, New York’s Blue Ribbon Publishing Co. marketed movables as catchier “pop-ups,” heralding a new genre. These low-cost imprints, inspired by favorite fairy tale and Walt Disney characters, feature basic designs on coarse paper. Yet complete, rare, unused ones are quite desirable.
Through the 1950s and ’60s, Vojtech Kubasta, Czech artist, architect and paper engineer, created an astounding number of three-dimensional books featuring highly stylized, boldly colored, witty, imaginative themes. Some begin in conventional flat format, concluding with single, dramatic pop-up punches. Others illustrate story lines with profusions of novel, geometry-inspired paper cuts, folds, pull tabs and scaffolding. These create massive, complex visuals that not only leap off the page, but also extend beyond their borders.
From then on, pop-ups have flooded British and American markets. Unlike those of old, imagined, planned and produced single-handedly, up to 60 artisans design, engineer, print, pound, cut free, fold, then hand-assemble hundreds of components into a single creation.
Scores depict simple peekaboo Disney, Harry Potter or Sesame Street themes. Others, far more intricate, explore adult topics like phobias, superstitions, nightmares or the Naughty Nineties. Those interested in trying their hand at paper mechanics may also enjoy pop-ups illustrating how to make pop-ups.