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All I want for Christmas is a pop-up book

By Christopher Proudlove ©

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THERE’LL be no Wiis in my house this Christmas thank you very much. We watched them being demonstrated at the launch by Nintendo PR girls thrusting, parrying and gesticulating in front of a widescreen TV.

See a pop-up slideshow

It immediately made us wonder how long it would be before one of them let the thing slip, sending it crashing through the screen. Wiis don’t have a wrist strap for nothing, but if I was the parent of a youngster expecting one from Santa this Christmas, I be taking out extra insurance.

Oh for the days when children were content with a stocking containing an orange, the latest Dandy or Beano annual, a handful of assorted nuts (still in their shells, of course) and a few simple and inexpensive toys. Ah yes, I remember it well.

Time was when the must-have Christmas present for children and adults alike was a magical

book like the ones illustrated here. In their own way, they were the Victorian equivalent of the Game Boy — and they didn’t need batteries. They are mechanical or metamorphic books, designed to be interactive, their pages changing as the story develops, all at the whim of the reader.

Today’s collectors call them "pop-up books", a catch-all term that covers a multitude of elaborate and innovative three-dimensional and other designs that remain as captivating today as they were a hundred years ago.

Actually, mechanical books have a long history. One of the earliest examples was published in the 13th century by an unlikely sounding character named Ramon Llull (c.1235-1316), who wrote poetry and practiced mysticism on the island of Majorca.

His hand-written complex philosophical texts were illustrated with revolving desks called volvelles which could be rotated around a central pivot to point to words or symbols on the page or predict the future.

In the 14th century, other mechanisms were being used for example in books on anatomy, where flaps could be turned or lifted to show different sections of the body and its organs.

Books specifically intended for juveniles did not appear in any form until the latter half of the 18th century when publisher John Newbery responded to the need to improve children’s education.

Thereafter, it was only a short time before publishers began to experiment with creative and innovative ways to capitalise on the market.

London printer and bookseller Robert Sayer took the lead in about 1765 with the production of "Harlequinades", books named after the pantomime figure, which consisted of pages with two engraved scenes.

  Each scene was split in the centre by a number of flaps, layered one on top of another and attached at the top and bottom of the page, so that each flap could be lifted from the centre.

Each half of a scene was interchangeable with the others so that turning the various flaps created sufficient variations in scenes to keep children amused for hours.

Using a similar technique, the first Paper Doll Books were produced by London publisher S. & J. Fuller from 1810 and in the1820s, miniature portrait painter William Grimaldi developed another type of "lift-the-flap" book referred to as a toilet book.

He devised the idea as a party game, sketching articles from his daughter’s dressing table as  representations of specific virtues. For example, rouge equalled modesty, powder, innocence and the looking glass, humility.

The articles were illustrated on flaps, which, when lifted, revealed scenes illustrating each virtue.

His son Stacy published the first book in 1821 entitled The Toilet, which enjoyed great popularity and inspired a rash of imitations.

Two years later, Stacy published a boy’s book, A Suit of Armour for Youth, also written and illustrated by his father, in which illustrations of moral themes were hidden beneath pieces of armour.

Thomas Dean was the first publisher to produce truly movable books on a large scale. The firm was already in existence at the start of the 19th century but they were among the first to adopt the new lithographic printing process that had been invented in Germany in 1798.

Dean’s "toy books" dominated the market from the 1840s being noted for their beautiful chromolithographic images.

His son George joined the company in 1847 and they opened studios in London where teams of artists devised ever more complex movable books.

In 1856, for example, they released a series of fairy tales adventure stories in "peepshow" style titled New Scenic Books.

Each scene was depicted on three or more cut-out sections placed one behind the other and attached by a ribbon running through them.

The scenes lay flat, face down when the book was closed but when it was opened, the ribbon caused the scenes to pop up giving a three-dimensional view.

In the 1860s, Dean also invented a mechanism to animate a scene by pulling a tab. Advertised as "living pictures", among the best known was the "Royal Punch and Judy as Played before the Queen"

In it, the reader controls the action in a three-dimensional miniature theatre, moving the characters by pulling tabs located at the bottom of each page.

"Home Pantomime Toy Books" was another Dean’s innovation in which the entire subject matter of an image changes as the pages are turned.

Dean dominated the industry for much of the 19th century but in the 1880s, a number of German publishers capitalised on their country’s expertise as specialist lithographic printers and crashed into the European children’s book market.

Leading the attack was Raphael Tuck who moved to England as a young man, working first as a furniture maker. He subsequently began framing and selling pictures and chromolithographs printed in Germany from a wheelbarrow in the streets of London.

In 1866, he opened a small shop and four years later, his sons joined him to open a publishing business in the capital.

The business was a huge success and Tuck later became official Publisher to Queen Victoria.

Father Tuck’s Mechanical Series was a popular series featuring multi-layered three-dimensional scenes, while Fun at the Circus featured pages with three-dimensional overlays designed to be raised out of the book and laid on to the tabletop like a diorama.

They were also printed in both colour and black and white, the latter enabling children (and their parents) to colour them by hand.

Another German publisher who specialised in colourful movable books was Ernest Nister. His company was founded in Nuremberg in 1877 in a city which had been a centre for toy making throughout the 19th century and had the most advanced colour printing in the world.

His speciality was illustrations that stood up automatically. His figures and scenes were die-cut and mounted in a three-dimensional framework connected by paper guides. As the pages are turned, the figures stand to attention in a setting which has its own perspective.

His other forte was movable books with pages made up of dissolving and a revolving slats which cause the images to transform using complex geometric cuts which revolve as tabs are pulled by the reader.

However, the most complex and original movable picture books of the 19th century were produced by a Munich artist called Lothar Meggendorfer.

His illustrations often had five parts which move simultaneously and in different directions using intricate levers hidden between pages. When activated they give the characters and scenes an almost endless range of movement.

Dozens of interlocking parts and intricate rivets make the carpenters chop the wood, the musicians play their horns, and the nurse rock the baby but because of their complexity, the books were the preserve of the wealthy.

Nevertheless, from the 1880s to the 1900s, Meggendorfer’s works enjoyed brisk sales and many reprintings.

Needless to say, the outbreak of the First World War crippled output from both German and British publishers alike. The Second World War dealt the industry another blow and in this day and age of electronic gadgetry, pop-up books are enjoyed and appreciated by a relatively small select few.

I know which camp I’m in.

Tags: Books · Christmas · Juvenalia

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jon Hatfield // May 21, 2008 at 9:31 pm

    Thank you for all this info about pop up books. I had no idea this type children book and children art dated so far back–was familiar only with the Nister 1890s product. I would only add that this novelty genre is alive and well in current children books, although simpler and aimed at a younger age. Also 1980s and 1990s repro versions of the Nister 1890s mechanical books are readily available on eBay at minimal cost.

    Regarding the Nister pop-up and mechanical books, the artwork mostly dates back to 1887-92 illustrated books without the mechnical effects and notable at the time for the poetry and children stories and for the art printed illustrations. Among the authors was E. Nesbitt, one of the founders of the Labour Party, although there are no political overtones to her most charming children event narratives.

    These books are usually referred to as “Nister” books, despite the fact that “Ernest Nister of Nuremberg” is referred to only as “printer and lithographer” for the books until 1891–and that only on the back side of the title page. Griffith & Ferran, London, is listed on the covers and title pages as publisher of the UK editions, E. P. Dutton, New York, for U.S. editions, and various local distributor/publishers in European translated editions. These books were preceded by same-format, same-circle-of-authors-editors-illustrators children books–with both UK and American editions listing Hildesheimer & Faulkner, London, and George C. Whitney, New York as publishers. The one French version of the earlier books I’ve found has no indication of publisher. It would appear the conception and origin of the books was with the circle of UK editors & editors who then made printing and publisher/distributor arrangements and for some reason switched to other arrangements for 1887 publication. Robert Ellice Mack, author & editor for several of the early books, is cited in sources as in charge of Nister’s subsequent London operations and may have been the moving force behind the original books. How Nister of Nuremberg, printer and lithographer, became owner of the operation and why Dutton was kept on as co-publisher is unknown. The 1891 books list Dutton first and Nister second as publishers, reversed in 1892 and subsequently. Dutton’s role is often cited as mere American distributor of the product, but it was somewhat more than that. Three Nister-Dutton U.S.-market (only) children books mid-1890s illustrated by Frances Brundage clearly were conceived & designed by Dutton, and the earlier fourth 1889 Brundage-illustrated book was issued only in Dutton’s name. The early Nister-Dutton postcards (and also the earlier Stroefer , of Nurnberg, postcards) used mostly artwork from the 1887-92 books, but when the time came for transition to new style children artwork, the artists were mostly new American children artists, apparently recruited by Dutton. Whatever the co-publishing arrangement was (it may have consisted mainly of Dutton copyrights on the 1887-92 books), it appears to have ended around 1910. The Nister-Dutton 1890s product lines–reissue of excerpted stories & illustrations from the original books in half & quarto sizes, reuse of artwork in novelty mechanical books, reuse of artwork for diecut calendars and holiday diecuts, reuse of artwork for 1900s postcards–involved little new artwork, and Nister’s main contribution to the operation seems to have been the mechanical effects for the 1890s upscale book line–which appear to have had little U.S. distribution. The half and quarto illustrated booklets, on the other hand, are the only art-printed booklets besides Tuck’s annuals & Brundage-illustrated fairy tale booklets with wide American distribution. The U.S. product also involved advertising department pieces–unmarked but artwork from the Nister books & thus presumably arranged with Nister-Dutton. Tuck specifically had an New York department, termed “Tuck Adv. Dept.” on one of its samples, although the generic tradecard pieces involved have no Tuck identifying marks–likewise the upscale Hagelberg advertising pieces. The advertising category is the largest 1890s U.S. collectible category, although mostly collected for other reasons than the art. U.S. art paper has little in the way of greeting cards compared to the UK (Prang is the major exception there), and what there is in the art paper category consists mainly of occasional complimentary Christmas greeting handouts to customers by retail merchants.

    This has gone a bit afar from the subject of pop-up books. I guess the point is that in terms of amount of publication, the “Nister” books predominate. Moreover, three of the original circle of “Nister” children artists–Ellen Andrews (she appears to be the illustrator of the Nister book shown with this pop-up book piece), Harriett M. Bennett, & Helena Maguire–went on to be “stars” in later international art publication…with perhaps the name of Lizzie Mack/Lawson also to be added. In a sense, one might cite the 1885-92 illustrated books, H&F/Whitney and G&F/Dutton and Nister-Dutton, as the beginning point in extensive international children art publication history. There are earlier beginning points, even if one limits the category to lithograph art printing, but this was the point at which children art printed paper became an international market phenomenon. The first twenty years of international children art publication are unfamiliar to American collectors–key publisher and artist players and their parts unknown by name, even though significant parts were played out in the U.S. market and the pieces are collected individually. The last parts in children art publication were less international and mostly played out in the UK and European markets–a whole post-Victorian world of children art we do not know on this side of the Atlantic.

    The very beginnings of children art and children literature are, of course, British–and go back to the 1700s. Like our understanding of American history, we do not quite get the basic fact that our revolution was one in a series of British revolutions that resulted in our federal and your parliamentary system of democracy (with the parliamentary system perhaps superior in method of selection of head of state…or at least I think your system would have selected my current favorite candidate–just think what a LIBERAL Margaret Thatcher could do for America–ha). Nor do we appreciate how much of our treasured children art paper is by key early UK artists or that children literature begins in Britain.

    By the Victorian period, children art and literature was a bit more than for children. That is obvious with Dickens and Twain, although they are mostly seen in terms of children stories and the very adult and biting social irony ignored. Victorian children art by comparison is idealistic and much fantasy, though Frances Brundage’s images are sometimes social commentary, occasionally quite pointed and unexpected in a commercial product. The key role played by German art publishers in Victorian children art publication is still not much understood–partly because much of the product has no identifying marks (the packaging may have)…and partly because our attention is focused on the individual pieces and the artist and the publisher part seems decidedly secondary. Also even 70 years after the events, “German” is a no-no word. We who have been so fortunate in geopolitical developments that enabled us to make the transition from the old order to freedom & democracy long ago forget that we had Cromwell, barely understand that the terror of the French Revolution and its Napoleonic aftermath was a phase in the difficult transition from the old order on the continent, and can still not pity the Germans and the Russians for the horrors they participated in in their even more difficult transitions in a period of new fanatic political and geopolitical ideologies. We in the New World had our own horror brought over from the Old World–the plantation system was a monstrous reinstitution of the old manorial system with slavery instead of serfdom (just as Soviet Communism was basicly a modernized version of the Old Order there), and somehow was partially exorcised by a war that was the worst in modern times until WWI, although it has taken five generations for the freed slaves, descendants of forced “immigration” to become full participants in our society–I like to think altogether most fortunate for our civilization despite the horrible circumstances of transition, negative socio-economic consequences of which still linger for Afro-Americans. Other American immigration experiences have been difficult & their ultimate contributions & achievements large and great, but the Afro-American “immigration” experience has been as unimaginably horrific (and prolonged) as their ultimate contributions and achievements appear to be increasingly immeasurably large and great in our society. Well enough, we still face the transitions of Third World societies into, hopefully, freedom and democracy. Some are successfully making the transition. I wonder if India & other parts of the former British Empire appreciate enough the UK contribution to their transition, heirs by geopolitical circumstances to centuries of British revolutions–ha. The big question is how Middle East societies will make the transition without some new horrific aberration. And beyond that looms the crisis of Marx’s predicted capital conglomeration & its predicted consequences, which seems to go on apace without ideological underpinning & which would not exactly end in the nirvana for civilization he envisioned by whatever name the result might be called–world capitalism, world communism, new order, or whatever.

    Jeez, this has gone far off subject from pop-up books and Victorian children art.

  • 2 Christopher Proudlove // May 21, 2008 at 10:19 pm

    Another great comment. Thanks Jon.
    Chris

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