Tag Archives: pop-up book

The History of Paper Engineering

The following blog post was written by Special Collections & Archives staff member April Martin.

Literature with functional qualities such as pull tabs or pop-ups are often considered children’s entertainment. However, paper products with mechanical elements were originally created as tools used by adults. Religious calendars, calculation tools, and navigational aids were found in the form of a volvelle. This was a circular chart housing a rotating disc that exposed information as it was turned. Volvelles were invented during the 13th century by Matthew Paris, an English historian, artist, and Benedictine monk. De Corporis Humani Fabrica Lirbri Septem (1543), a human anatomy book, pioneered the next form of paper engineering. Andreas Vesalius designed the textbook incorporating flaps and sleeves to produce a sense of depth necessary to display accurate anatomical placement of bones, muscles, and organs.

In the late 18th century illustrated books began being printed merely for pleasure reading. The History of Little Fanny (1810) provided a new form of entertainment as the first paper-doll book with movable paper clothes. The end of the 19th century is considered to be The Golden Age of Movable Books. During this time Lothar Meggendorfer of Munich, Germany led the industry in innovative paper engineering techniques. His work introduced a single pull tab that created multiple life-like movements. Unfortunately, during World War I many German production facilities were destroyed and the demand for novelty books decreased.

International Circus, an adaption of an 1887 antique pop-up book by Lothar Meggendorfer

After a fifty year hiatus, movable books made a return. The Bookano Series, published by Giraud in the mid 1900s, produced three-dimensional structures that stood up as the page opened. Previously known as “spring ups,” the Blue Ribbon Press soon coined this kind of book “pop-up.”

The Dwindling Party by Edward Gorey with three-dimensional structures from varying perspectives.

Caldecott Medal winner Paul O. Zelinsky created one of today’s most complex movable books, Knick-Knack Paddywhack (2003). The Illustrator and his engineering partner, Andrew Baron, included over 200 moving parts. Another Zelinsky classic, Wheels on the Bus, featured turning wheels, pivoting tabs, pull tabs, and flaps. Watch the clip below to see it in action.

Pop-up and movable books are still the products of inspired artists with an ability to teach. There is no age limit to the enjoyment of a well engineered moveable book. Adults can appreciate the meticulously constructed pages while children feed their imaginations. Paper engineering will likely remain a source of creativity and entertainment in years to come due to its endless possibilities.

Keepsake Carousel is a dimensional reproduction of antique art by Ernest Nister. The dual photo is created with interwoven discs maneuvered by a ribbon pull tab.

All of the books featured in today’s post come from the Marsha Gontarski Children’s Literature Collection, which can be accessed at the FSU Special Collections & Archives Research Center.