If you think pop-up books are just for kids, think again. In the captivating exhibition Pop-up Books Through the Ages at the Newberry Library, the movable books date from as early as 1250, beginning with a “dial book,” which is one of the earliest known examples of a book with moving, applied pieces. There is also a “Liber Floridus” World Chronicle (a medieval encyclopedia “Book of Flowers” ) dating from 1121. When printers began working throughout Europe, books became a hot commodity, with editions in the dozens, sometimes up to a hundred copies of the same book. Many were educational and the primary purchasers were scholars and merchants. The Newberry owns twenty-one copies of a moon phase book, which in this exhibition five of the copies are all open to different pages in a long horizontal vitrine. They are by Peter Apian (1524-1609), from Antwerp, and were translated into Latin, Spanish, French and Dutch. Astronomy was a central subject of early books, as was geography. An exquisite paper globe hangs in the smaller gallery, and its flattened segments, called gores, are spread out in two dimensions in the larger gallery.
There is a wonderful fold-out book from 1876 with the anatomy of an eye in which the lens is covered with a mylar-like material. The Newberry is fortunate to own a dozen flap textbooks by Albrecht Dürer from 1525, as well as a stunning Dürer map that hangs on the north wall of the gallery in which each of the winds is portrayed as full-cheeked and blowing. There is a book with secret dials from 1563, and clever floral books in which bouquets of flowers lift to reveal risqué nudes beneath. The design elements in all of the exhibition’s books are amazingly clever.Moving forward in time to the last century, there is a group of the first cloth books invented to keep young readers from tearing pages. There are large books of paper dolls as well, Sally and Ann, that you can dress with clothes you cut from the pages. Topical to Guillermo del Toro’s recent “Pinocchio,” there is a wonderful pop-up book of the story, created in 1932, as well as a pop-up book by Ernest Nister from the 1890s of cats wearing Victorian-era clothing. From the twentieth century, several books are decidedly politically incorrect, balanced by a newer shadow-creating pop-up book by Kara Walker. I was fortunate to have a personal tour of this fascinating show with Suzanne Karr Schmidt PhD, the exhibition’s curator. Her encyclopedic knowledge of all things ancient and everything in this exhibition was dazzling and definitely enriched my visit. Not only does the Newberry have upcoming tours and events related to the show, but they have commissioned a free take-home exhibition souvenir—a cut-and-assemble model of the Newberry, by Hannah Batsel and Shawn Sheehy, especially for visitors to this must-see show.
“Pop-up Books Through the Ages” is on view at The Newberry Library, 60 West Walton through July 15.