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Popping Up: Uel E. Combs Book Collection in Special Collections

by Tara Wink on 2017-06-15T13:00:00-04:00 in Archives, English, Literature, History

Since the invention of the book, there has always been a fascination to challenge its two-dimensional properties and find ways to re-create the traditional book format. The concept of pop-up books, therefore, have existed for over 700 years as people have experimented with different ways to create that third dimension and makes books come alive in a whole new way. Though it’s not known who invented the first instance of a pop-up book or when, one of the earliest known attempts was made by a 13th-century mystic Ramon Llull of Majorca. Majorca illustrated his philosophical theories through the use of a “volvelle”, which was a revolving disc commonly used during this time for things like astronomical predictions.   

Until the 18th century, the use of movable parts and pop-up books were almost primarily for mature and scholarly use, and were not considered for the purpose of entertaining younger audiences, such as children. The late 1700s saw the beginning of “metamorphoses” books, which were designed for children and consisted of sheets folded with flaps that revealed hidden pictures underneath. This style of lift-the-flap books then gave rise to other forms of movable illustration books, most notably peep-show books and the unique inventions of Lothar Meggendorfer’s lever-and-spring-operated pop-up illustrations popular during the 19th century.

The first pop-up books made in America were created by the McLoughlin Brothers in the 1880s. These books included large, colorfully illustrated plates that folded out to become elaborate three-dimensional scenes that seemed to pop with life. From there the market for American pop-up books grew over the decades into Blue Ribbon Publishing’s Disney and fairytale pop-up books in the 1930s, to the Bennett Cerf’s Pop-Up Riddles series in 1964, to the modern technological pop-up books we know today that include things like sound and lights. Pop-up books have now become extremely popular, and over 200 new books are produced every year in the English language alone. {Mickey Mouse Camelot picture}

One of the many collections maintained in Special Collections is the Uel Combs collection. Uel Combs, who was an English professor at West Chester University, had spent many years collecting pop-up books, and his collection now resides in the Special Collections of the library. It includes a very diverse selection of pop-up books for children and adults alike, spanning a wide range of topics both fiction and nonfiction. There are pop-up books of fairytales and illustrated poems coupled with books detailing the elaborate interiors of castles and the history of Ancient Rome.

 A large majority of the collection consists of children’s pop-up books, though many of them are quite unique. Some of the more remarkable pieces include an antique copy of Mickey Mouse in King Arthur’s Camelot, a book on William Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre with a detailed pop-up replica of the original Globe Theatre, and a book of pop-up Norman Rockwell illustrations. It may seem strange today to consider pop-up books being made for adults, but the Combs collection possesses a decent selection. Among them is a pop-up Kama Sutra book, two parody sex books of life in both the 1890s and the Roaring 20s, and The Pop-Up Wine Book

which gives the reader an extensive education on the history, science, and even the process of making wine and includes pop-ups diagrams of vineyard chateaus and a spinning wheels that allows you to match up the type of wine with the right meal to eat with it..

Each of the books in the Uel Combs collection are unique, and help demonstrate how diverse the world of pop-up books can be and the many different functions they serve. Whether the goal is to entertain, inform, or simply for artistic expression, this collection shows us that pop-up books are not just for mindless children’s amusement; they come in many forms, can be quite sophisticated, and can be enjoyed by all ages. 

Blog post written by: Melissa Mulreany, Class of 2017, Special Collections Spring 2017 Intern and English Major.    


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