Title Index
Blue Ribbon Publishing
Dean and Sons
French Movables
S. Louis Giraud
Viotech Kubasta
McLouglin Brothers
Lothar Meggandorfer
Ernest Nister
S and J Fuller
1965 to present
Raphael Tuck and Sons
Julian Wehr


A Brief History of Early Movable Books

Scope of Site


A Brief History of Early Movable Books

At present, books considered "pop-up" or movable are popular sources of delight for children and adults alike. However, the types of books today's audiences associate with such a genre are the result of a somewhat long development and, consequently, form an intriguing niche in the "history of the book."    

The first movable books actually predate the print culture. The earliest known examples of such  interactive mechanisms are by Ramón Llull (c.1235-1316) of Majorca, a Catalán mystic and poet. His works contain volvelles or revolving discs, which he used to illustrate his complex philosophical search for truth. Through his logic, he divided categories of things and ideas, substances, adjectives and verbs, and knowledge and actions, into superior and inferior groups. Each group was made up of units designated by letters, which were then assigned appropriate sectors on circles of different sizes. The circles were cut out and placed one on top of one another as "a method of obtaining a higher knowledge of all things by simple mechanical means (the turning of circles) in the shortest time" (Lindberg 51).

Volvelles were utilized from Llull's time through to the eighteenth century for manuscripts and in printed books. They illustrated a variety of topics, including natural science, astronomy, mathematics, mysticism, fortune telling, navigation, and medicine. 

Other types of movables, in particular "turn-up" or "lift-the-flap" mechanisms, were in use as early as the fourteenth century. They were especially helpful in books on anatomy, where separate leaves, each featuring a different section of the body, could be hinged together at the top and attached to a page. This technique enabled the viewer to unfold, for instance, multiple depths of a torso, from ribcage to abdomen to spine. One spectacular example of an anatomical movable is Andreas Vesalius' De humani corporis fabrica librorum epitome, printed in Basel in 1543. It features a movable illustration in which the human anatomy is shown in seven detailed superimposed layers.

Movable books were not created for juvenile audiences until the early nineteenth century. In fact, children's books were not published on a large scale until the latter half of the eighteenth century, when publisher John Newbery began selling books specifically for children. Soon afterward, innovative publishers started experimenting with creative and interactive ways to achieve success in a juvenile market. 

The first successful product resulting from these novel attempts was the Harlequinade, designed by London printer and bookseller Robert Sayer. Around 1765, Sayer developed a "lift-the-flap" style book. The book consisted of two engraved scenes. Both scenes were split in the center by a series of flaps, layered one top of another and attached at the top and bottom of the scene, so each could be lifted up from the center. The various half-scenes on the top and bottom of every flap corresponded and were interchangable with one another. As a result, turning up the flaps created amusing variations in the scenes. Descriptive verses accompanied each flap and informed the reader the order in which the scenes should be unveiled. Sayer decided to called his "metamorphoses" Harlequinades after the Harlequin, a leading character featured in pantomime theatre. Harlequin, too, became the central figure in Sayer's books. The Harlequinades soon became hugely popular among children, and many titles, including pirated editions, were sold.

In the1820s, miniature portrait painter William Grimaldi developed another type of "lift-the-flap" book referred to as a toilet book. He initially devised the idea by sketching articles from his daughter's dressing table as representations of specific virtues. The articles served as flaps, which, when lifted up, revealed scenes illustrating each virtue. Grimaldi's son Stacy published the first book in 1821. Entitled The Toilet, it enjoyed great popularity and inspired other publishers release imitations. In 1823, Stacy published a boy's book, A Suit of Armour for Youth, also written and illustrated by his father. In it, Grimaldi substituted toilet articles for pieces of armour, which also represented moral themes depicted underneath the flaps.

Although the early kinds of movables described above are extremely scarce, a number of copies have survived. Images of these early books can be found in Sten G. Lindberg's "Mobiles in Books: Volvelles, Inserts, Pyramids, Divinations and Children's Games" (The Private Library, 3rd series, vol. 2), Peter Haining's Movable Books: An Illustrated History, and Blair Whitton's Paper Toys of the World (full citations are below). Lindberg concentrates on earlier period, from the thirteenth to the eighteenth centuries. Haining and Whitton discuss the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.         

Scope of the Site

The rest of this site continues the historical sketch of pop-up and movable books. It focuses on books published after 1850, with the exception of paper dolls by S & J Fuller. The purpose of the site is to give an overview of the important artists and publishers involved in creation and distribution of novelty books and, just as importantly, to provide an image for the examples described whenever possible. Although the images are unable to mimic entirely the interactivity of the spectacular originals, a lot of the images are animated to depict the scenes in action.

The books featured are part of the Gustine Courson Weaver Collection at the University of North Texas Libraries. This site is expected to expand as more books are acquired for the collection.


Caraway, Georgia. "The Story of the Tuck Postcards." Denton Record-Chronicle 1 May 2000.

Haining, Peter. Movable Books: An Illustrated History. London: New English Library, 1979.

Koskelin, Susan. "The Evolution of Movable Books from the Late Thirteenth Century to the Late Twentieth." Graduate school paper, U of North Texas, 1996.

Lindberg, Sten G. "Mobiles in Books: Volvelles, Inserts, Pyramids, Divinations, and Children's Games." Trans. Willian S. Mitchell. The Private Library 3rd series 2.2 (1979) : 49-82.

Montanaro, Ann R. Pop-up and Movable Books: A Bibliography. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1993.

Vries, Leonard de. A Treasury of Illustrated Children's Books: Early Nineteenth-Century Classics from the Osborne Collection. 1st ed. New York: Abbeville Press, 1989.

Whitton, Blair. Paper Toys of the World. Cumberland, Md.: Hobby House Press, 1986.

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