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A Serious Collection of Fun Books: The Sentimental and the Comic


The Sentimental and the Comic

Timeline: 1870s - 1914


portrait of ernest nister

Ernest Nister begins as a publisher of calendars, greeting cards, and other paper ephemera. In the 1880s he invents pop-ups that stand upright by turning the page. His popular movable books are published in his native Germany, England, and the United States. 


clown image with mechanisms
Meggendorfer Mechanisms

Lothar Meggendorfer begins work as an illustrator for a weekly satirical journal. He publishes his first movable book in 1872 and continues creating them until the outbreak of the First World War. His books have worldwide sales and are translated and published in Belgium, England, France, Hungary, Russia, Spain, and the United States as well as in his native Germany. 

moving book that displays birds opening their wings

London, ca. 1890
Ernest Nister, illustrator-paper engineer

circular display opening up to multiple colors

London, ca. 1900
Ernest Nister, illustrator-paper engineer

Two influential figures in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century movable book design are Ernest Nister and Lothar Meggendorfer.  Based in Nuremberg, Germany, Nister was an artist and successful publisher of children’s books, greeting cards, and paper toys. His books are thought to be the first with “automatic” pop-ups—that is, a mere turn of the page prompts the upright movement in a pictorial feature.

Nister’s books were internationally popular, selling in Germany and, in English translations, published in London and New York City. They presented an idealized, sentimental vision of childhood where dresses and trousers were always crisp and clean. Utilizing fine paper, chromolithographed pictures, and mechanisms die cut and assembled manually book by book, Nister’s editions were not inexpensive. Around 1900, American editions of his larger books sold for about $35 in today’s currency.

There are no idealized visions of children in the movable books crafted by another German, Lothar Meggendorfer. Early in his career, Meggendorfer worked as an illustrator and cartoonist for a Munich-based weekly humor and satire magazine.

flock of sheep moving in a field
All alive : a movable toybook, [189-?]

Accordingly, a puckish, comic spirit imbues his movable books in caricatures of people, silly (if not outlandish) costumes, a predilection for clowns and circuses, and animals (often monkeys) acting like people. And the comic figures are animated in a truly unique fashion. Meggendorfer’s mechanisms are constructed from oddly shaped paper and levers and pull-tabs held together by tiny rivets and springs.