Paper Engineering: Over 700 years of Fold, Pull, Pop & Turn
February 10, 2015 9:41 PM   Subscribe

The history of paper engineering in books, or the making of "pop-up books" didn't start as a way to entertain children, but in the search for more tools to educate adults, including some proto-computers from as early as the 13th century. Let Ellen G. K. Rubin, known also as The Popup Lady, regale and inform you at length, in either the form of a 50 minute presentation for the Smithsonian Libraries, or read through her website, where she has a timeline of movable books and see the glossary for definitions of the different movements as starting points. Or you can browse the Smithsonian's digital exhibition (the physical exhibition ended a few years ago). And of course, there's plenty more online.

The first known example of a book including a feature that moved beyond the confines of a static page came from Matthew Paris, Benedictine monk, English chronicler, artist in illuminated manuscripts and cartographer. He created the first volvelle, or inset wheel, to calculate future holy days, and also created the first small flaps and full gate-fold pages to detail pilgrimage tour guides of sorts.

Before modern paper engineer historians knew about Matthew Paris, they knew about Ramon Llull, who is one of the first people who tried to make logical deductions in a mechanical rather than a mental way, and provided a paper tool for others to follow his logical deductions.

The most gorgeous example of early books with moving parts is Petrus Apianus' Astronomicum Caesareum, scanned in full (static) form in the Rare Books Room, and a short, low-resolution video of one of the volvelles in action. The book features beautiful illustrations related to astronomy, including 35 volvelles that served as actual tools to calculate movements of the planets as understood in the Pyolemaic system. Unfortunately, the book was published in 1540, shortly before the Copernican Revolution cast aside the geocentrism Ptolemy for heliocentrism.

Besides astronomy, volvelles were also used for astrology, including medical astrology, to inform a doctor when was the best time to perform particular surgeries, as seen in the Guild Book of the Barber Surgeons of York (description of how to use the tool, Google books preview). Also in the realm of tools for doctors are medical flap books, including scenes from female reproductive cycles, specifically Spratt's Obstetric Tables, from 1848. Medical flap books are still made in various forms to this day. And because they lend themselves to this, GIFs of an anatomical flap book, specifically Medicology, or Home Encyclopedia of Health: A Complete Family Guide by Joseph G.Richardson, M.D. (HTML-ified copy of the 1904 edition).

Finally we have reached more familiar territory: children's books. Robert Sayer produced the first movable books for children, simple pamphlets with flaps, called Harlequinades for the prominent Harlequin character. This lead to what some consider the first golden age of children's pop-up books in the 1800s, with paper doll books (site includes links to interactive flash paper doll features) and fold-outs from Ernest Nister (hands-on demonstration and review video), Dean & Sons (dry biography, few images), Lothar Meggendorfer (reading stories and moving pieces that pivot on rivets) to name a few. In the late 1920s, S. Louis Giraud started publishing books with double-page pop-ups, where turning the page would open a pop-up. In 1932, Blue Ribbon Press copyrighted the term 'pop-up' and started publishing pop-up books with licensed characters from Disney and classic tales like The Pop-Up Pinocchio.

From here, we get into more modern creations, which really start pushing what it means to engineer paper. The Popup Lady has a lengthy biography for Vojtěch Kubašta, Czech children’s illustrator, paper engineer, and author, as well as a few short, low-quality "play-through" videos for his works. Given his attention to detail, higher quality videos really make his books pop. But it took Waldo ‘Wally’ Hunt, an ad-man turned mega-fan to bring Kubašta's care for the craft to a larger audience. As told in that NY Times obituary, "an advertising man turned novelty-book packager, Mr. Hunt was almost single-handedly responsible for the postwar revival of the pop-up book in the United States."

That brings up to the very present, and back to three nearly hour long Smithsonian presentations: Behind the Paper Curtain: The Magic and Math of Harry Potter, The Pop-Up Book (fan review video); The Birth of a Corporate Pop-Up Book; The Pop-Up Art of David Carter; and for a quick look into the making of commercial pop-up book, Paper Engineering: Fold, Pull, Pop & Turn, from research and doodling to prototyping and finally hand assembly of the final product (yes, all pop-up books are still hand-made).

If you're looking for something else, how about 11 minutes of paper engineering in action, an INKtalk from Rives, a paper engineer/ poet/ storyteller/ philosopher. If you want to make your own books pop up, here's a 9 minute video tutorial for altering flat page books, and a 4 minute video tutorial for making a card with pop-up flowers.
posted by filthy light thief (17 comments total) 102 users marked this as a favorite
An awesome post. Will take me days to get through it all.
posted by key_of_z at 11:01 PM on February 10, 2015

This is fascinating! Thank you for the great eye and brain - candy!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 12:01 AM on February 11, 2015

Holy   \moly!/
posted by distorte at 1:25 AM on February 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

If you want a really good resource for your own pop-ups, I can't recommend Pop-Up Design and Paper Mechanics by Duncan Birmingham enough. Unfortunately his website seems to be out of action at the moment.
posted by pipeski at 4:12 AM on February 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

More inside!

Seriously, fantastic post!
posted by carter at 4:46 AM on February 11, 2015

I thought I would have a couple of good links to add here, but by golly you have forestalled me at every turn. Well done indeed.
posted by Segundus at 5:28 AM on February 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oooh, once I get home I will share some of my favourite pop up books and link to ones I have made. They are so much fun. Thanks for all the linkage, I sense that I will have some new favourites when I can browse all the links.
posted by Calzephyr at 5:36 AM on February 11, 2015

Thanks! I've had an itch in the back of my mind to learn more about pop-up books after seeing some of Jan Pieńkowski's books from my wife's childhood. His illustration style is distinct in those books, but most of the pop-ups are pretty simple, compared to some of the things I've seen in writing this post. Then someone gave our son Knick-knack paddywhack!, conceived and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky. Some of the pulls are bi-directional, meaning that you pull them out and you see one thing, but you push them back in and something else happens, and that really impressed me. The paper engineering was done by Andrew Baron of Popyrus Studio, who speaks in the "Birth of Corporate Pop-Up Book" video, linked in the OP. Zelinsky wrote up how he selected Baron as a collaborator, and how they worked directly with the Chinese assembly team (PDF).
posted by filthy light thief at 5:49 AM on February 11, 2015

Thanks so much for posting this; I had absolutely no idea that popup books were this historic (ie, the volvelle), nor that they were still hand-made today.

I poked through some of the info (and it will take me a long time to consume the rest), but in case people are interested in some other highlights (I did some more googling):

There is a Star Wars popup book and the characters have light sabers that glow

There is a pop-up book of phobias. Who the hell came up with this one?

Some of the hand-made pop up books by fans are delightful; I thought this pop-up of Doctor Who was great.
posted by Wolfster at 12:39 PM on February 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Please read those links as fast as you can, because I'm going to let our daughter look at this in a bit and she's going to shred it.
posted by yerfatma at 1:12 PM on February 11, 2015

This just shows that if you wait patiently, filthy light thief will eventually get around to making an FPP about that thing you're really, really into. This is awesome, thank you!
posted by Room 641-A at 1:37 PM on February 11, 2015

So glad that you included the tutorial bits — I've looked around a couple times and couldn't find very good guides online. I took a laser cutting class a couple months ago, and had brief fantasies of doing something like that for my wedding invitation, but quickly realized that the actual design was beyond my reach. Still something I'd like to play with though, so thanks again.
posted by klangklangston at 2:28 PM on February 11, 2015

What a post! Thank you, thank you!
posted by jokeefe at 5:00 PM on February 11, 2015

posted by LobsterMitten at 5:11 PM on February 11, 2015

This is great. If you want to see some great paper engineering as it evolves, you can always follow the work of paper automata designer, Rob Ives. I have been a member for several years now and really enjoy seeing the process of developing an idea into a moving paper sculpture.
posted by Altomentis at 7:25 PM on February 11, 2015

A wonderful thing I had as a kid was a "carousel book" of some fairy tale. It was like a pop-up book (or, pop-back book, since the outer edges of each page form a proscenium and the other elements proceed backwards into the page), where the spine is flexible enough that you can open the book all the way, until the front and back covers touch, and then you can tie it open with its attached ribbons. Magical.

There were a series of these called Peep Show books, and they're also called merry-go-round books. A couple of pics here: carousel books. (That link seems to be connected to one of your video links too).
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:07 PM on February 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Screw favorites, I'm just going to leave the browser tab with this question open forever.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 8:15 PM on February 15, 2015

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