Cotsen Research Projects: Lothar Meggendorfer’s Mechanical Books

The text below was kindly provided by Amanda M. Brian, recipient of a 2012 Princeton Library Research Grant, following her August 2012 research project with Cotsen Children’s Library special collection materials: “The Wider & Whiter World in German Mechanical Books.”  Dr. Brian is currently assistant professor of history at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, SC.

Lothar Meggendorfer’s Mechanical Books

by Amanda M. Brian

Beginning in the 1970s, pop-up books enjoyed a kind of renaissance in the United States. Within this trend, the name of Lothar Meggendorfer (1847-1925) was continually floated as an early master of movable illustrations in children’s books. Meggendorfer began his career as an illustrator for the Munich-based humor magazines Fliegende Blätter and then Münchener Bilderbogen. Like several of his colleagues at these publications, Meggendorfer became a crossover success in the world of late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century children’s literature. His books became bestsellers during his lifetime; the most popular went into multiple editions and were translated into many languages.

Lothar Meggendorfer, Gute Bekannte (Stuttgart: W. Nitzsche, c. 1880), p. 25.

Lothar Meggendorfer, Gute Bekannte (Stuttgart: W. Nitzsche, c. 1880), p. 25.

It seems he was aware of both his influence and its monetary reward, for he included a telling self-portrait in which he stood at an easel and received a commission in Gute Bekannte. This discovery was one of several unexpected and deeply satisfying moments that I experienced as a researcher in the Rare Book Division at the Princeton University Library.

Moreover, Meggendorfer’s books were frequently reproduced and widely distributed along a German-British publishing network, which then collapsed in the face of World War I. After the war, Meggendorfer continued his work in puppet theater, a passion that had clearly influenced his figures’ exaggerated physiognomy, especially their large noses and wide mouths.

Then in 1975, the New York book dealer Justin G. Schiller purchased and prepared a catalog of a cache of production files found in J. F. Schreiber’s Esslingen warehouse for what was believed at the time to be the entire surviving Meggendorfer archive. Maurice Sendak provided an aptly named “Appreciation” in Schiller’s The Publishing Archive of Lothar Meggendorfer, adding to a certain frenzy for Meggendorfer’s books, particularly his movable books. Following this advertising, between 1979 and 1982, five of Meggendorfer’s most popular movable books were reissued and reproduced, culminating in 1985 in a kind of anthology of his most intricate and humorous pull-tab illustrations, The Genius of Lothar Meggendorfer. This relatively recent attention has cemented Meggendorfer’s reputation as a paper-engineering master on both sides of the North Atlantic. It is, therefore, not too surprising to find such an extensive collection of Meggendorfer’s children’s books in the United States; the Cotsen Children’s Library has perhaps the best examples of his works States-side, which is particularly impressive considering the wear and tear movable illustrations from over a century ago have taken.

Cotsen Children’s Library also houses an almost equal number of Meggendorfer’s non-movable books to his movable books. This acts as a kind of corrective to the amount of attention afforded his pull-tabs and panoramas at the expense of his overall production of texts and images. His self-portrait, after all, was in the non-movable Gute Bekannte. A collection that just focused on Meggendorfer’s elaborate pull-tabs–which, do not misunderstand me, are impressive with their simultaneous movements achieved by paper levers attached to small copper rivets hidden between the pages–would overlook the non-moveable (in the scholarly definition of movable parts) but equally interactive Nimm mich mit!

Lothar Meggendorfer, Nimm mich mit! Ein lehrreiches Bilderbuch, 5th ed. (Munich: Braun & Schneider, c. 1890), cover and p. 173.

Lothar Meggendorfer, Nimm mich mit! Ein lehrreiches Bilderbuch, 5th ed. (Munich: Braun & Schneider, c. 1890), cover and p. 173.

This small, 8 centimeters by 24 centimeters, picture book was designed for the non-reading, or read-to, child to “take along” around the home and into the field to compare the drawn object to the real object. It presented a comprehensive catalog of things in the child’s “garden and room” to be examined “with love,” as the introduction explained. For example, pages 125 to 184, the largest section of the book, portrayed animals with skill at expressive caricatures. Many of these animals could have been found in the child’s backyard (e.g., chicken and grasshooper), nearby woods (e.g., deer and hedgehog), or traveling menagerie (e.g., elephant and parrot), but some of these animals (e.g., whale and ostrich), the child would not have seen in nature.

In Meggendorfer’s oeuvre, animals were the most pervasive theme, followed by music. Focusing on the content and not just the mechanics of his works, it is clear that Meggendorfer’s audience was expected to identify and enjoy both domestic and foreign animals. But there were clear differences between how he portrayed domestics–meaning both native to Europe and pervasive in his audience’s lives, like dogs, horses, and sparrows–and exotics–meaning non-native to Europe and perceived as wild by his audience, like elephants, lions, and apes. How domestic and exotic animals behaved differently became instructive in Meggendorfer’s books, representing hierarchies among and between Europeans and non-Europeans, and teaching his middle-class youthful audience about their place in the world.

Lothar Meggendorfer, All Alive. A Moveable Toybook (London: H. Grevel, c. 1891).

Lothar Meggendorfer, All Alive. A Moveable Toybook (London: H. Grevel, c. 1891).

To offer but a single example, compare the poem with the movable illustration “Good Friends” [above]  in the British production All Alive, which featured rabbits, a goat, and a cat as a “happy family,” to the poem with movable illustration “Die Heimkehr” [below] in the original German version Reiseabenteuer des Malers Daumenlang und seines Dieners Damian.

Lothar Meggendorfer, Reiseabenteuer des Malers Daumenlang und seines Dieners Damian. Ein Ziehbilderbuch (Esslingen: J. F. Schreiber, 1889).

Lothar Meggendorfer, Reiseabenteuer des Malers Daumenlang und seines Dieners Damian. Ein Ziehbilderbuch (Esslingen: J. F. Schreiber, 1889).

In “Good Friends,” the ideal middle-class home was portrayed by domestic animals “living in such harmony.” Domestic animals continued to model appropriate behavior for bourgeois children in Meggendorfer’s works. By contrast, in “Die Heimkehr,” the young lord, Daumenlang, and his servant, Damian, have traveled the world, including Africa, and have headed for home loaded down with booty, including the skins of the tiger and black bear that they had encountered and mastered, and live apes and birds. They found danger, but not harmony, among exotic animals, which were perceived as part of the conquerable landscape of certain non-European territories. I first saw the illustration of the tiger “attack” from Reiseabenteuer in the Cotsen Library; those pages have been excised in the late-twentieth-century reproduction of the book.

The books by Lothar Meggendorfer that delighted audiences in the late nineteenth century and were embraced with enthusiasm in the late twentieth century were not simply examples of paper acrobatics. Rather, they both reflected and shaped the historical context of the expanding German empire at the turn of the twentieth century.

Cotsen Research Projects: Vienna Secessionist Book Illustration for Children

Note: The Friends of the Princeton University Library offer short-term Library Research Grants to promote scholarly use of the research collections, which are awarded via a competitive application process.  Researchers usually offer a short informal talk or presentation to library staff and others in the Princeton academic community near the end of their work on campus about the results of their research and how it fits into their broader research project or interests.

The text below was kindly provided by Megan Brandow-Faller, recipient of a 2012 Library Research Grant, following her July 2012 research project at Princeton in both the Cotsen Children’s Library and Marquand Art Library, following her July, 13, 2012 talk entitled: “An Artist in Every Child–A Child in Every Artist: Avant-Garde Frauenkunst and Kinderkunst in Vienna, 1897-1930.”  (The images accompanying the text are adapted from select slides in her PowerPoint presentation.)  Dr. Brandow-Faller is currently Assistant Professor of History at the City University of New York/Kingsborough. Her research focuses on women’s art institutions in early twentieth century Habsburg Central Europe.

Vienna Secessionist Book Illustration for Children 

by Megan Brandow-Faller

The art of the child found fertile ground in Vienna 1900, cultivated by Franz Čižek’s renowned Jugendkunstkursen (Youth Art Classes), at important exhibitions of children’s art, and in the pages of Ver Sacrum and other periodicals.  Rejecting the elaborate technological miniatures popular in the nineteenth century–toys intended to ‘dazzle’ but which would ultimately leave a child cold–artists associated with the Vienna Secession and Wiener Werkstätte (the applied arts commercial workshops co-founded by Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser in 1903) designed objects conceived ‘with the eyes of a child.’ Secessionist toys, illustrated books and graphics using simple shapes and bright colors were designed to awaken children’s creative impulses in a design language that children could understand.

Figure 4b: Kolomann Moser & Therese Trethahn, turned wooden toys, in Jan. 1906 issue of Kind and Kunst. (Cotsen Children's Library)

Figure 4b: Kolomann Moser & Therese Trethahn, turned wooden toys, in Jan. 1906 issue of Kind and Kunst.
(Cotsen Children’s Library)

In designing these so-called ‘reform toys,’ Secessionists tapped two main sources for inspiration: the untutored drawing of children and traditional turned wooden peasant toys. The January 1906 issue of Alexander Koch’s progressive journal Kind and Kunst, for instance, devoted a richly-illustrated twenty-three page article to Wiener Werkstätte items (including finely-illustrated children’s books, games, silver rattles, and furniture suites) for children, including toy designs by Hoffmann, Moser, and Carl Otto Czeschka.

Kolo Moser’s crudely-shaped wooden figurines (illustrated in Figure 4b) reveal how Secessionists interpreted traditional toys in a highly-stylized manner verging on the grotesque.

Figure 1a: Minka Podhajska, cover illustration for Sept. 1902 issue of Ver Sacrum.  (Marquand Library)

Figure 1a: Minka Podhajska, cover illustration for Sept. 1902 issue of Ver Sacrum.
(Marquand Library)

Yet, it was actually the female students of Hoffmann, Moser, and Czeschka who produced some of the most important work in artistic toys and children’s book illustration. Contemporary critics found toy design and book illustration particularly appropriate fields for female craftswomen, given women’s ‘natural’ stake in childrearing (i.e. that women were believed to better understood children’s thought processes than men). Female craftswomen training at Austria’s progressive School of Applied Arts and Vienna’s Women’s Academy exploited such discursive linkages to the fullest.

 

Figure 1b: Fanny Harlfinger-Zakucka, stenciled image in Sept. 1902 Issue of Ver Sacrum. (Marquand Library)

Figure 1b: Fanny Harlfinger-Zakucka, stenciled image in Sept. 1902 Issue of Ver Sacrum.
(Marquand Library)

One popular method of graphic art and book illustration for children involved the use of painted stencils to produce clear, simple images. Stenciling had experienced a recent revival during the English and Scottish arts-and-crafts movement. In conjunction with the so-called Schablonieren Kurs (Stenciling Course) taught by Secessionist Adolf Böhm at the Women’s Academy, Böhm’s students published illustrated fairy tale and picture books and gained recognition through replication of such illustrations in the pages of Ver Sacrum, die Fläche and other periodicals. A special September 1902 issue of the Secessionist periodical Ver Sacrum featured the work of Böhm’s students. (Figures 1a & 1b)  His students’ toy designs were regularly featured in the pages of The Studio.

Figures 2a & 2b: Fanny Harlfinger Zakucka, stenciled images from Schablanon Drücke, ca. 1903. (Cotsen Children's Library)

Figures 2a & 2b: Fanny Harlfinger Zakucka, stenciled images from Schablanon Drücke, ca. 1903.
(Cotsen Children’s Library)

One such book of children’s stencils (housed in the Cotsen Collection) created by Women’s Academy classmates artist/designers Minka Podhajska and Fanny Harlfinger-Zakucka around 1903 employs a fresh and original graphic language using negative white space in lieu of the black borders that Čižek encouraged his students to bound their drawings.

Packing a strong expressive punch into a minimal number of marks expressed as abstract geometrical shapes, Harlfinger-Zakucka’s stenciled image of a reform-clothing-clad mother, sporting what looks to be Wiener-Werkstätte style textiles, guiding her toddler plays on negative and positive space to reveal the interconnected forms and hence psychological closeness of mother and child (Figure 2b). Her stencil of a children’s Jause (snacktime) employs similar techniques (Figure 2a). These stenciled images reveal a striking encounter with Japanese printmaking techniques in their unusual manipulation of spatial perspective and boldly ‘cropped’ nature.

 

Figures 3a & 3b: Minka Podhaska, stenciled images from Schablanon Drücke, ca. 1903.  (Cotsen Children's Library)

Figures 3a & 3b: Minka Podhaska, stenciled images from Schablanon Drücke, ca. 1903.
(Cotsen Children’s Library)

Likewise carving her images out of negative white space, Podhajska’s depiction of a dancing couple (Figure 3a) reveals her fascination with folk art, an important source of influence for the turned-wooden toys she and Harlfinger-Zakucka produced. Her stencil of a witch conjuring her brew employs a wonderfully expressive sinuous curve associated with the new art movement (Figure 3b), which also relates well to the idiosyncratic use of turning-lathe methods in her turned-wooden figurines. The tangible figure of the witch and cauldron is expressed in a curvilinear fashion. Yet it is the intangible aspects of the image–the suggestion of smoke, fire and more abstractly the witches’ incantations–lending it its fiery expressiveness. While both artists tapped into folk imagery and design idioms, their work freely reinvented and modernized traditional folk design into images that were designed to awaken children’s creativity through subtle narrative elements. Images stood alone to leave the rest of the story to children’s imagination.