Monday, May 23, 2011

A Pop-Up Book of "Exquisite, Sentimental Beauty"

by Stephen J. Gertz

The Land of Long Ago (1898).

It's rare when  a 113 year old pop-up book in pristine condition lands my desk. It's even rarer when a 113 year old pop-up book in pristine condition lands on my desk, jumps into my lap, and opens to reveal  eye-popping pop-up tableaus that dazzle with the quality of their color printing, and warm with their lovely vintage charm.

Beauty and the Beast.

I am beholding what is regarded as among the most beautiful achievements of the genre, an Ernest Nister production.

Mister Nister was a printer and publisher based in Nuremberg, Germany. He established a London office in 1888 under the direction of the writer Robert Ellice Mack and, specializing in children's literature, soon issued pop-up, movable, transformation, and panorama books, as well as standard children's fare, operating until c. 1917.

The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe.

"Though primarily involved with his successful color-printing business, publisher and printer Ernest Nister (1842-1909) specialized in colored toy and movable picture books. Operating in both Nuremberg and London in the 1890s, this entrepreneur developed a distinctive style firmly lodged within nineteenth-century aesthetics.

"However, Nister's images outshine those of his contemporaries by epitomizing an exquisite, sentimental beauty. His artistic vision guides all the works regardless of pop-up mechanics and even of illustrator. In fact, we are uncertain to what extent Nister contributed his own illustrations to these books. In many cases, he imposed his own monogram on images in his imprint, dropping the artist's signature in the course of the production process."

Puss In Boots.

Detail: Note the finely granulated texture to the print, the hallmark of lithography.

"Nister used a wide range of movable techniques to intrigue children. The popular late nineteenth-century blind format of Changing Pictures, for example, capitalizes on a child's fascination with peek-a-boo. We are surprised to find Jack climbing the beanstalk behind Little Bo-Peep. Nister also animates his pages with simple slats, dimensional scenes, and remarkable pinwheel mechanics. With these basic paper tools, he creates fantastic transformations.

Sleeping Beauty.

"The 'long ago' of [The Land of Long Ago] speaks to a 'never never' land of fairy tales. The casting of such stories into a remote historical past cuts them loose from any connection to reality" (University of Virginia, Pop Goes the Page: Movable and Mechanical Books from the Brenda Forman Collection).

Little Red Riding Hood.

The pop-up plates were printed via chromolithography, a multi-color printing process originally developed in Germany in the nineteenth century that used heavy oil-based inks, devoted one stone for each color, and layered the colors to achieve a rich, textured effect that is easily confused with an actual oil painting, unless you look very closely and observe the finely granulated imprint of the stone's surface upon the paper.

Some objected to chromolithography because it could reproduce a painting so well as to be deceptive. But artists were pleased; the process was the finest for reproducing their original color images as accurately as possible.

Little is known about the artist, E[velyn] Stuart Hardy (b. 1870). She was the sister of illustrator Paul Hardy, a writer and illustrator of children's books in color and black and white, military subjects in black and white, and various editions of English classics, including Jane Eyre.

The books of Ernest Nister were extremely popular in America, published, heavily promoted, and sold by E.P. Dutton. Edward Dutton kept a close eye on publishing trends in Europe and, recognizing their profit potential, contracted with Nister to exclusively distribute and sell his books in the United States.

High production values and comely imagery withstanding, what remains most impressive about this copy is that it was never, apparently,  enjoyed by the child it was originally designed for; an untouched copy sitting under someone's bed or in their closet for over a century. Movables of this vintage are generally found in various stages of destruction; the books were routinely played with by kids until they ended life as confetti  (the books, not the children).

[POP-UP BOOK]. WEEDON, L.L. HARDY, E. Stuart (illustr.). The Land of Long Ago. A Visit to Fairyland with Humpty Dumpty. With Pen-and-Ink Illustrations by E. Stuart Hardy. London - New York: Ernest Nister - E.P. Dutton, n.d. [1898].

First edition. Oblong quarto. Six chromolithographed pop-up plates. Black and white text illustrations throughout.

Quarter red cloth over full color pictorial boards.

Images courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks.

Of related interest:

Waldo Hunt and Pop-Up Books: A Brief Overview.

Movable Books Pop-Up at the Smithsonian.

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