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A Serious Collection of Fun Books: Pop-Up Books and the Past


Pop-Up Books and the Past 

Timeline ca. 1000 - 1800s


image of 14th century volvelle with sun and a king
Bodleian Library, Digby MS 46 (14th century) - Source

The earliest movable books appear in the Middle East and in Europe. They often employ volvelles to convey information about relationships between time or the seasons, and astronomy and astrology.


moon volvelle, circular
Volvelle (15th century) - Source

The publication of movable books continues in Europe. Many of these incorporate volvelles or flaps to present cosmography, human anatomy, mathematics, and other scientific information.


fold out of harlequin skeleton
Harlequin Skeleton, 1772

Flap books for children appear. Initially published by Robert Sayer of London in 1765, they become wildly popular and soon Sayer's books complete with those of rival publishers. Flap books continue to be popular into the 1800s.


woman with cow

Most genres of movable books have emerged and are now produced and marketed in Europe and in the United States. If they are in color, all are hand-painted until approximately mid-century, when commercial chromolithography becomes practical.

Books with moving parts may seem like modern novelties specifically made for children, but they were originally produced for adults and conveyed scholarly or otherwise serious information. The first known movable book published in Europe, Chronica Majora, dates to thirteen-century England. The work of a Benedictine monk, the book’s movable component, a volvelle, could be turned to calculate holy days. Other early movable books were usefully put to other purposes through dynamic features that could depict human anatomy, aspects of astronomy, the arcana of astrology, and approaches to landscape architecture. 

New York City, ca. 1880

movable page revealing scene from puss n' boots

London, 1859

Representative illustration of woman animated by pull-tab

London, 1860

Representative season change illustration animated by pull-tab.

The books on this page represent a range of movable books published in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Like earlier movable books, these encompass “practical” works with moving parts that convey information.  An Analysis of Horsemanship, for example, relies on a movable element to illustrate the use of a bridle. And Outlines of Anatomy and Physiology typifies how flaps were used to illustrate the human body.

Other items from the same period suggest a growing market for children’s movable books. Published at London between 1765 and 1790, the various “Harlequinades” (here represented by the 1772 Harlequin Skeleton) are thought to be the first children’s books with moving parts.

And Dean’s New Book of Dissolving Views is one of many publications put forward by Thomas Dean and his son George, who were the first publishers to mass produce movable books.