QofR: Movable books

Updated: Apr 14, 2021

My interest in the haptic experience of reading/looking through an artists' book has led me to think about ways the artist can enhance the interactive nature. Novelty devices such as pop-ups, volvelles, tunnel pull-outs and flaps can help to establish an intimacy and a dialogue with the reader. They provide a link between physical manipulation and mental stimulation, although as Martha Carothers writes: 'The risk of novelty devices is that a book may become just a collection of gimmicks. When properly used, a novelty should explain, describe, or entertain, at the same time piquing the viewer to action, both physical and mental.'

Movable books have been in existence for hundreds of years, and were not, for a long time, aimed at children. Originally used in books on astronomy, mathematics or medicine, novelty features like volvelles - a circular layered devices that can be turned, resulting in various possibilities - or flaps were used as informational tools, to show transformations or possibilities. It wasn't until the late 19th and early 20th centuries that paper engineering became synonymous with children's publishing through the work of Louis Giraud and Harold Leinz.


Some examples of movable books

1240 - Matthew Paris - Chronica Majora

The first recorded movable paper device is believed to date back to 1240, when it was devised by an English Benedictine monk to calculate the dates of Christian holidays for years to come. Volvelles were used for religious calendars, for mathematical, scientific and astronomical calculations, and as navigational aids. By turning the circles you could line up several factors, providing various outcomes. Pilots still use the E6B calculator today to determine fuel burn, wind correction and journey time - the E6B is an analogue device clearly founded upon the volvelle design seen here on the right.

1575 - Leonhard Thurneysser - Astrolabium

Leonhard Thurneysser was a scholar with broad interests (including alchemy!). Published in 1575, the Astrolabium shows a 3D construction with revolving discs that show constellations and other celestial features that were meant to determine the course of the planets and their influences. Each of the hand-colored plates in the work contains a different constellation and Des Menschen Cirkel und Lauff (Man's circle of life) with up to six wheel charts depicting the fixed stars and a Baum des Lebens (Tree of life). Many books containing volvelles like this were placed on the Catholic church's Index Librorum Prohibitorum - denounced as heretical due to their supposed ability to predict fates.

1613 - Johann Remmelin - Captoptrum Microcosmicum

One early example of movable parts used in anatomical understanding can be seen Remmelin's Captoptrum Microcosmicum. The book was printed using woodcut illustrations of muscles, bones, and viscera arranged in layers. As each illustrated flap was lifted, the layer beneath it was revealed, consequently body’s internal organisation became apparent. Remmelin’s work wasn’t intended as an exhaustive anatomical reference book, but was aimed at the interested layman.

1765 - Robert Sayer - Harlequinade series

On of the first series of movable books made expressly for children was produced by publisher Robert Sayer. The books are still not pop-up books, but are simply pamphlets with split-page illustrations. The reader can life parts up or down, revealing a new illustration and advancing the story line. The pamphlets were referred to as 'turn up' or 'metamorphosis books'. The title of the series comes from the harlequin character who features in each of the stories.

1816 - Humphry Repton - Fragments on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening

The landscape designer Humphy Repton used movable sections in his published works to illustrate his artistic vision to his clients. A flap overlay shows the current vista, which when open reveals the newly designed version. Another example can be shown in the image on the right, where a small flap of the facade of the house can be opened to reveal the interior. This cross-section adds a greater sense of depth and substance, opening an intimacy between reader and artistic vision.

1851 - Lane's Telescopic View

Peepshow books - often referred to as tunnel books after their usage in commemorating the opening of the Thames Tunnel - were popular during the 19th century. Although they are more optical toy than book, they fit within the general field of paper engineering and can be used as a section within a movable book. Tunnel books were often created to mark certain events, or show places of interest such as St Mark's Square. They are constructed simply, with a number of sheets of cart which are di-cut and connected with cloth. They can be folded flat for transportation, but when pulled out provide a three-dimensional experience for the viewer, with clever layering of cut out sections.

1887 - Lothar Meggendorfer - International Circus

A paper engineer considered the genius of the form was Lothar Meggendorfer. Although not true pop-ups (they require the reader to manually pull out sections), Meggendorfer's work was exceptional. By refining the use of rivets, Meggendorfer made a single pull tab create multiple life-like movements, producing sculptural 3D books depicting satiric scenes from contemporary life. The movable book society has a prize named after him, awarded each year for outstanding work by a paper engineer.

1929 - Louis Giraud - Daily Express Children's Annual

WWI saw a dearth of book production, but the work of Louis Giraud inspired a new proliferation of true pop-up books. Giraud patented a paper structure he called 'stand-up life-like' and 'living models'. From 1929-1949 Giraud worked on Daily Express Annuals, followed by his own Bookano series. The books featured three-dimensional structures that revealed themselves as the reader turned the page and didn't require additional manipulation, making them the first true pop-ups. The models could also be viewed from multiple angles, as opposed to single-sided prints. Giraud created and sold his annuals for modest prices by using a photolitho printing process, which while it lacked detail and refinement was appealing for its bright colours and originality.

1950s - Vojtěch Kubašta

One of the most prolific producers of children's pop-up books was Vojtěch Kubašta. Working in the 1950s and 1960s, Kubašta's work took the pop-up book into newly sophisticated and commercially successful realms - selling over 35 million copies in over 24 languages. You can see the development from Giraud's productions in the 1920s, these pieces involve complex paper engineering and are more slick in appearance thanks partly in developments in printing technology.

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