Mechanical Book Created As
Astronomical Training Aid
Mechanical books, those that have either “pop-up” pages or movable pictures turned with a stiff paper lever or dial, are becoming very popular with collectors.
They do not represent a new idea, however. The first known mechanical book can be traced to 1551. Called Opera Mathematic, it was a book on astronomy printed in Nuremberg, Germany. It was used as a teaching device. Revolving disks and pointers helped to make the movement of the universe easier to understand.
By early in the 1800s, mechanical books were used for less serious purposes. Some were made to entertain, such as the American Toilet Book, which depicted objects on a lady’s dressing table. Some were also used for advertising. Observations On The Theories and Practices of Landscape Gardening used a flap to give a before-and-after effect on a client’s garden.
Dean and Son in England and Nister of England and Germany produced movable books beginning in the 1840s. Dean’s books had hand colored woodcuts of hinged figures and movable objects, such as Old Mother Hubbard sweeping her floor, with a tiny paper broom that actually swept.
Advances in printing processes and die cutting techniques made mechanical books quite readily available by the 1860s. Cut-out figures, one behind another, could be made to stand up to give a three dimensional look. The various layers of figures were erected by pulling on a piece of ribbon.
A variation of the mechanical book was the type of die-cut book that appeared near the end of the 19th century, in which the book itself took the shape of an animal, doll or child, while the enclosed pages were cut to the form of the outer cover.
Another variation was the “flip” book, with divided pages that changed the head or body of an animal when the pages were flipped. Also imported from England and Germany about this same time were books that featured disks which changed faces and shapes when turned, or tabs that pulled sliding slats to transform a picture into a completely different image.
Book designer Lothar Meggendorfer brought new techniques to the production of moveable books by the turn of the century. He used an intricate series of interconnection levers, which allowed the reader to activate the characters of the book by pulling on a tab. His dancing figures danced and his billiard players put the ball in the pocket.
Pop-up books as we think of them today originated in the 1920s. Both fairy tale characters and cartoon characters were featured. Pleasure Books and Blue Ribbon Books were two of the active publishers of these books; Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and Pinocchio were among their stars. Terry and the Pirates, Buck Rogers and Popeye were also popular.
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