My last post on the home library got me thinking about the evolution of another prized book collection…
It all started while in Cornwall on holiday in 2009. The pressure was on: it was the last few weeks of summer before heading back to college. The topic of my senior dissertation was proving to be much more elusive than I would have preferred. While mulling it over one day I went into a discount bookshop in Newquay. I laid my eyes on a pop-up version of The Jungle Book by the paper engineer, Matthew Reinhart, and all my questions seemed to be answered. Although it seemed like a strange idea, I knew I wanted to write about pop-up books.
The true origins of the movable book form aren’t known. The thirteenth century Catalan philosopher, Ramón Llull, is the most renowned early paper engineer, as he used the volvelle or rotating disc form in order to illustrate his theories. It was also used to tell fortunes, to create codes and for teaching anatomy.
Despite the early promise of such forms, there was no further experimentation with paper engineering until the eighteenth century. This is when mechanical books as we now know them began to be devised. Robert Sayer, the owner of a late eighteenth century Fleet Street bookshop, adapted the lift-the-flap mechanisms used in educational paper engineering in order to provide children’s entertainment. These harlequinades were greatly sought-after by wealthy families, and often used as after dinner amusements.
Although the function of movable books changed, their forms did not until the emergence of other publishers of children’s literature. A range was soon established: paper dolls, panoramas and peepshows are only a few. These paved the way for the increasingly sophisticated pop-ups that are familiar today.
My supervisor was very kind and got behind my rather unusual topic; the research that followed was by far the most interesting and rewarding of my college career. I still hope to someday have the opportunity to continue with this research.
My collection continues to grow in anticipation. It’s housed behind glass in the sitting room sideboard. I like to admire the colours on a grey day and to pull a few favourites out from time to time to enjoy the artistry of the paper engineering.