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Popups - They're Not Just For Kids!
The Harold M. Goralnick Pop-up Book Collection - An Exhibition

A Prelude to Pop-ups

Pop-up books, made popular in the twentieth century, have evolved from earlier “movable book” construction techniques developed mainly in the nineteenth century—especially those produced by Dean & Sons in England and by Ernest Nister and Lothar Meggendorfer in Germany—and from further refinements in the twentieth century by American book designer Julian Wehr and others.

These early books either included animated illustrations to complement text (often, nursery rhymes) or presented 3-dimensional structures like “peep-show” tunnel books or dioramas for child’s play. Today, we might characterize such books as “interactive media;” they encouraged the reader to engage the work physically as well as intellectually, and they bestowed a sense of personal control over portrayed action.


Ernest Nister (1842-1909).

A color printer and publisher in Nuremberg, Nister produced numerous richly illustrated toy and movable books from the 1890s onward.  His creations were distributed widely throughout Germany, England, and the United States.  The quality of his color printing (chromolithography), his sentimental idealized aesthetic, and his creativity in devising captivating effects through movable parts and self-erecting structures, especially his “Panorama Pictures,” had a lasting impact on subsequent pop-up book design.

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Our Peepshow.  London:  E. Nister; New York:  E.P. Dutton, [1898?].
“A Novel Panorama Book.”

This book, comprising illustrated English children’s stories and verses, was published both in England and America but with all of the printing being done in Nister’s Nuremberg facility.
Although Nister’s “panorama” structures were similar to earlier ones in portraying wide scenes, they differed mechanically from earlier techniques that required manual effort to pop up—here, the act of opening the page erects the multiple paper layers without further effort from the reader.

Hide-and-Seek.  New York:  Philomel Books, 1992.
A reprint of Hide and Seek Pictures (1898).

Variously called “revolving,” “vanishing,” or “dissolving” pictures, Nister used these rotating circular structures with ribbon pulls to animate multiple scenes within the same page.
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Magic Windows.  New York:  Philomel Books, 1980 (Intervisual Communications).
A reprint of In Wonderland and What Is to Be Seen There (1896).

Beyond “Revolving Pictures,” Nister also designed more complex rotating discs that interacted with one another through intersecting slits. The result was a kaleidoscope effect as one image “dissolved” into another.

My Picture Puzzle Book.  New York:  Philomel Books, 1991 (Intervisual Communications).
A reprint. First published London, 1912.

Nister’s “Puzzle Pictures” adapted his revolving disc techniques by combining four rotating square-shaped pieces, each containing one-quarter of a picture.  By turning each square to the proper orientation, four different pictures were possible.
Lothar Meggendorfer (1847-1925).

After a decade as a writer and illustrator for the German humor magazines Fliegende Blätter [Flying Pages] and Münchener Bilderbogen [Munich Pictorial Broadsides], Meggendorfer began engineering and illustrating movable books in 1878.  The mechanisms that he invented were highly complex, with a single tab-pull animating multiple features simultaneously through the use of rivets and connected levers.  Choosing his own comical topics and tableaux rather than established tales, he produced over 200 such creations for both German- and English-speaking markets during his career. With high quality printing and the need for complex assembly, these books were expensive—their creation assumed a highly privileged clientele.

Lothar Meggendorfer’s International Circus.  London:  Kestrel; New York:  Viking, 1979.
Reprint adaptation of: Internationaler Zircus (Esslingen, 1887).

Menageries and circuses were popular juvenile themes in late-nineteenth century Europe.  This work features six acts, separated structurally by using an accordion fold format book design.  The reader was required to erect the paper structures manually.
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The City Park.  New York:  Viking, 1981.
Reprint adaptation. First published as Im Stadtpark (Munich, 1887).

Meggendorfer constructed this book as a diorama, using a double accordion fold binding and cutouts, and he provided instructions on how to arrange and display the scenes in a variety of ways.

Buffalo Bill’s Wilder Westen: Ein Bilderbuch zum Austellen für Kinder [Buffalo Bill’s Wild West: A Children’s Picture Book for Display].  Esslingen:  J.F. Schreiber, 1989.
Reprint. First published in 1891.

A diorama similar in construction to Meggendorfer’s highly popular International Circus, this work was inspired by “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s elaborate “Wild West Show,” which included not only cowboys and Native Americans, but also stagecoaches, horses, and buffalo.  Cody’s show toured Europe, including Germany, to enthusiastic audience response.
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Bubenstreiche: Ein Verwandlungs-Bilderbuch [Schoolboy Pranks: A Transformation Picture Book].  Esslingen:  J.F. Schreiber, 1997.
Reprint. First published in 1899.

Borrowing from the “Max und Moritz” themes and characters developed by Wilhelm Busch earlier in the nineteenth century, Meggendorfer provides textual and visual vignettes about the consequences of boyish pranks.
The illustrations are animated using a pull-tab “jalousie” technique.  Pulling the tab causes paper strips to move so that one image becomes hidden as a second is revealed.
Julian Wehr (1898-1970).

Following on the tradition of Nister and Meggendorfer, Julian Wehr designed movable books that relied chiefly on pull-tabs or sliding levers to animate the illustrations.  Wehr’s designs and patented mechanisms expanded on the operability of those animating devices, increasing their range and variability of motion.
Born August Wehrfritz in Brooklyn, Wehr brought a background in sculpting, drawing, and lithography to his passion for book design.  He began creating animated books in 1942, and he designed and illustrated more than forty such works for juvenile readers over the next two decades.

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The Exciting Adventures of Finnie the Fiddler.  New York:  Cupples & Leon, 1942.

Wehr’s first animated book, it was the only one that he wrote, illustrated, and engineered.  On some pages, as many as five different animations occur from activating a single lever.
Stresses on the U.S. economy during World War II necessitated cheap materials and cheap prices—both were characteristics that distinguished Wehr’s books from those produced in Germany half a century before, although the artistry and mechanics were first rate.

Little Black Sambo, by Helen Bannerman.  New York:  Duenewald Printing Corp., 1949.

In this animation, Sambo’s legs make a walking motion while his torso moves in tandem.  Wehr patented his animation process, but others quickly appropriated his techniques nevertheless.
Wehr had several publishers, including Grosset & Dunlap, E.P. Dutton, and Stephen Daye in New York City and Saalfield in Akron, Ohio.  However, the Duenewald Printing Corp. was the exclusive agent for all of “Wehr’s Animations” and occasionally acted as publisher as well.
Wehr would produce a mock-up in his studio and deliver it to Duenewald for lithographing, printing, and diecutting.  Subsequently, Duenewald would also oversee each book’s assembly and binding.

Snow White (New York:  Duenewald Printing Corp., 1945); Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Akron, Ohio:  Saalfield, 1949).

These two editions differ in the number of animations that appear.  The Duenewald edition includes five animations, all situated among the text.  The later Saalfield edition repeats two of those animations but relocates them inside the upper and lower covers—doing so allowed for much cheaper production costs.
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Cowboys and Indians, by Laura Harris.  New York:  Avon Kiddie Books, 1951.

In this rare departure from “Wehr Animation,” Wehr included two pop-ups rather than lever-animated constructions in illustrating Harris’s story.

Animated Nursery Tales.  New York:  McLoughlin Brothers, 1962.

This updated edition of a Wehr title first published in 1943 shows a familiar “1960s” aesthetic.  This, and an updated version of Wehr’s Animated Mother Goose, were the last two books that Wehr published.  Later reprints of several of Wehr’s works, however, remain in print.
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