The exhibition Pop-ups. The Magic of Books tells us how the three-dimensional book has changed over almost one and a half centuries. Let’s go through some of the pieces on display to find out why they were chosen to represent the evolution of the pop-up.
Small 19th-century wonders
Internationaler Circus by Lothar Meggendorfer, published by J.F. Schreiber in 1887, is a surprisingly large scenic book: it represents the arena of a circus with acrobats, clowns and dancers, around which are boxes with dozens and dozens of charmed spectators. When open, it is almost a metre and a half wide! Meggendorfer was a master of animated books, the “ancestors” of three-dimensional books, in which figures could be set in motion by means of tabs, volvelles or ribbons.
The exquisite Peeps into Fairy Land, published by Ernest Nister and E. P. Dutton in 1896, is a panorama book, in which the planes, spaced with tabs, compose a kind of theatre. Another technique widely used in the 19th century was that of floating layers, where the separate levels do not rest on a horizontal plane, as in scenic books. An example is Cosy Cot Farm, published by Raphael Tuck and Sons in 1895, whose editions often represent bucolic scenes or children’s games.
At that time, three-dimensional books were meant exclusively for children: many of these volumes, which are over a century old, have dedications to the lucky children who received them as gifts.
Original three-dimensional “revolutions”
The first “real” pop-up, however, is The “Pop-Up” Pinocchio (based on Collodi’s original story), created by paper engineer Harold Lentz and published by Blue Ribbon Books of New York in 1932. The term was registered as a trademark, and only later did it come into use to indicate three-dimensional books in general. It was enormously successful, so much so that the publisher produced a great many titles, and also collaborated with Disney.
Another beautiful pop-up on display is the carousel Alì Babà e i 40 ladroni, published by Hoepli in 1943. It was an all-Italian production. Set designer Mario Zampini and illustrator Raimondo Centurione created a new three-dimensional structure, in which the book covers can rotate completely so that all the pages can be open at the same time, with segments unfolding in which the parallel planes form perspective scenes.
Great masters and great producers
The undisputed master of pop-up art was Prague-based Vojtěch Kubašta: he was both an illustrator and a paper engineer, which is why the figures and structures in his works blend so perfectly together. He refined the multiple layers technique, which had been invented by Geraldine Clyne in the 1940s, but his most spectacular books are the so-called panascopic models. One of them is How Columbus Discovered America, dating back to 1961. With only three pages and a thickness of less than half a centimetre, Columbus’ caravel, Santa Maria, rises up from one large painting, with rigging and all.
The story goes that Kubašta’s pop-ups were very much appreciated by Waldo Hunt, called "Wally", who wanted to produce them in America. Unfortunately, it was the Cold War period, and imports from the Soviet bloc to the United States were banned. Wally then began to produce pop-ups by coordinating paper engineers, illustrators, and publishing houses. An example from that period is Andy Warhol’s Index (Book), published by Random House in 1967, in whose production Waldo Hunt involved the famous artist.
Pop-ups for everybody
In the 1980s pop-ups started dealing with an increasing number of themes: music, robots, science, nature, cinema, and celebrities. Examples of this are the book series published by National Geographic, or The Royal Family Pop-Up Book by paper engineer Vic Duppa-Whyte, which illustrates some episodes from the life of the British royal family, or the book The Human Body, by paper engineer David Pelham, which is said to have sold three million copies!
In the 2000s pop-up books came back strongly in vogue: a new generation of paper engineers discovered new mechanisms and folds that made three-dimensional books similar to paper sculptures suitable for audiences of all ages. Just think of the works of Robert Sabuda, Bruce Foster, Matthew Reinhart, and many others. For example, take a look at the spectacular DC Super Heroes. The Ultimate Pop-Up Book: on the page showing the superheroes together, the illustration rises up by almost 40 centimetres!