We all know what a book is, don’t we?
A collection of printed or hand-written pages, bound together with some sort of covers, be they hardback or paper wrappers of some sort, right? And definitely something meant to be read or perused (in the case of picture books or volumes collecting illustrated plates).
But a few weeks ago here on the Cotsen blog, we looked a genre-bending variation on the general theme of a children’s book: an interactive musical toy, which combined (simplified) musical scores with words, bright color-process illustrations, and a mini musical instrument: read, perused, and played upon.
This week, I’d like to tell you about another variation on the theme, a type of “moveable” book, which also defies our normal expectation of a book as essentially a two-dimensional object: pop-up books. As the name implies, pop-up books make use of carefully-folded cardboard or paper (that’s thick enough to stand up), which then “pops up” to reveal an illustrated scene when the pages are turned. (Illustration is key — a pop-up book with printed text alone generally wouldn’t very interesting.)
In terms of historical development, late nineteenth century paper-engineered mechanical books by Lothar Meggendorfer (1847-1925) are often regarded as forerunners of moveables and pop-ups. Meggendorfer’s work was not aimed at children, although children certainly do delight in seeing them — and a lucky few probably did get to actually manipulate these fairly pricey publications at the time. In terms of recent pop-ups for adults and children of all ages, some of Robert Sabuda’s work comes to mind, Winter’s Tale, for instance. But the genre usually seems to be aimed at children, who delight in the bright illustrations and the non-static, interactive aspects of pop-ups.
The bright colors of chromolithography were certainly an important part of the visual appeal of children’s pop-ups, which became major items in the inventories of England’s Ernest Nister and America’s McLoughlin Brothers, both of whose work is very well represented in Cotsen’s collection. Nister’s chromolithographed books were generally printed in Bavaria or Germany (thus carrying on Meggendorfer’s legacy), while McLoughlin’s books were first printed and assembled in the firm’s Brooklyn production facility, in the days when Williamsburgh was a gritty manufacturing, not a trendy boutique and art center. After being sold to Milton Bradley, the McLoughlin imprint changes to “Springfield, Massachusetts,” the location of the parent company. (Thanks to technological developments in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth centuries, chromolithography, which had originally been a printing process for plates and art book reproductions, became commercially viable for cheap, children’s books — McLoughlin’s stock-in-trade).
McLoughlin Brothers was a real pioneer in mass-produced, relatively inexpensive color-printed materials for children, and the firm’s output included paper toys, board games, all sorts of novelties, and elaborately-cut paper Valentine’s Day cards. The clever paper engineering in pop-up books was thus a natural for them. One of their earliest pop-up books was The Jolly Jump-Ups and their New House, of which Cotsen Library has two copies, both marked “copyright 1939,” but with one bearing the text “patent applied for” above the copyright mark and the other noting “trade mark” after the title words “Jolly Jump Ups.” “Jolly Jump Ups” was McLoughlin’s title for this series of pop-up books, whuch eventually included eleven titles, and the “patent applied for” label indicates how proprietary McLoughlin was about their pop-up paper engineering. (This cover variation between what otherwise looks like identical editions, exemplifies an aspect that makes McLoughlin publications so tricky to catalog or identify with certainly — especially in view of the frequent lack of a publication date on many of their other books, which the firm often reissued over and over again over the years, sometime with the same inventory number noted and sometime with different ones. Are these two copies of New House from two different editions printed at different times, or part of the same edition — what bibliographers often term “the same setting of type” — with “just” minor printing variations on the cover, perhaps just “stop press” changes made to reflect a change in patent or trade-mark status? )
Take a look at the cover of The Jolly Jump-Ups and their New House. It’s a virtual collage of all the idealized aspects of small-town or suburban life that you could imagine! Packed together are happy children playing, a boy on his bicycle, a horse-drawn flower-seller’s cart, a pretty girl in a princess dress buying some flowers, a delivery van, and even an organ grinder and his monkey. In the background, a flashy car drives in front of brand-new subdivision housing, with the Jump-Ups’ large, brand-new house looming large on a hill. It’s hard now not to find this jumble of so many sentimentalized features a little over the top, but perhaps McLoughlin Bros. thought children needed all the cheer they could get in the dark days of 1939, when war had just broken out? Sentimentality and nostalgia for an idealized past were important aspects of many wartime stories for both children and adults.
The pop-up pages inside the book continue in this cheerfully idealized vein, depicting the perfect house, the perfect sunny day, the perfect happy family, lots of good wholesome fun… And despite the fact that the book has quite a bit of text, it’s really the color-rich pop-up illustrations that make a vivid impression and bring the story to life.
Copyrighted some ten years later, the 1948 Jolly Jump Ups ABC Book features a cover of happy children presented as fancifully-manipulated lottery figures. Quite a range of fun activities are displayed. I particularly like the fact that P and R are playing with phonograph records (along with Q) and that S is in the sand-box (along with T, U, and V), but perhaps I’m reading too much into this?
The actual pop-pages inside the book take a different pictorial tack though, using familiar illustrative objects for each letter of the alphabet: A is for child artist, C is for clown, T is for turkey, etc. In addition, each letter is chalked on a recurring blackboard backdrop, both in capital letters and cursive writing (remember that?) and provides the object of short, four-line poems in the manner of many earlier alphabet rhymes.
The illustrative objects seem to be an eclectic, free-associative combination, and at least one of the juxtapositions seems portentous, perhaps unintentionally. Does the “sharp saw” leaning on the turkey somehow suggest the poor bird’s Thanksgiving fate?
The Jolly Jump-Up Series includes the Jump-Ups at the Circus, … On the Farm, … At the Zoo, … At the Circus, and … On a Vacation Trip, when they visit Washington, DC, West Point, and the Grand Canyon. But, without question, my favorite of Cotsen’s books in the series is The Jolly Jump-Ups Journey Through Space, copyrighted 1952, a real evocation of the era when “outer space” and the idea of humans traveling into space really took hold of the public’s imagination. (As context, Sputnik was launched in 1957, the first Earth-orbiting satellite, transmitting radio signals back to Earth, a landmark event in the furious competition between the USA and the USSR to be “first” in the various aspects of space exploration.)
The text is presented in the narrative frame of a series of reports transmitted from “Station S-C-I-E-N-C-E radio and T.V., located in the Inventagon,” which describibe the Jump-Ups’ voyage to Mars. As such, the text is longer and perhaps more imaginative than that found in any of the other books in the series. But, once again, the illustrations really steal the show and make dynamic use of color-process-printing in the pop-up format.
In the book’s first pop-up illustration, the Jump-Ups (traveling as a family, just like the Space Family Robinson) pose for the press. A veritable catalog of 1950s clothing and then-state-of-the-art media technology is set against a futuristic backdrop that seems to belong to a very different world. In the second pop-up, a spacecraft more akin to something from Jules Verne than even the most fanciful 1950s mock-ups, blasts off against a beautifully-rendered sunrise. The ship’s fire-red blast-off plume is vividly done, and the its horizontal trajectory dramatically cuts across the rectangular plane of the illustration and perhaps even presses up against the envelope of the book’s “two-dimensional” rectangular plane.
Let’s take a closer look at the colors and details:
Once on Mars — which looks like a cross between the enchanted wood of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Grand Canyon (which the family had visited in their Vacation Trip pop-up book) — the Jollys meet friendly Martians, who look a lot like fairy sprites or the “little green men” of Martian lore. And of course, they get back to Earth safely. But how? Take a look the illustration! Did they fly home with wings? No, as the narrative below informs us (which I’ve cropped out here in hopes of better showing the illustration), the children have used their “spectrachutes,” a gift from the Martians, and ask their parents to safely land the spaceship. Some aspects of the relation between parents and kids never change, do they?
The Jolly Jump-Up Series must have been popular with children or — at least their book-buying parents — since the books were in print for well over ten years, and the number of titles in the series continued to expand during that time. The popularity of the Jump-Ups Series is also documented by several McLoughlin Brothers catalogs from the 1940s, copies of which we have in the Cotsen collection from McLoughlin’s own publisher’s archives”. The series is often the lead item in a catalog, and a four-page 1947 Price List touts the “The New Jolly Jump-Ups,” in addition to listing the well-known series titles. But what became of popular books?
Publication of the series ceased, not because it fell out of favor with child readers, but rather due to hard realities of business financials. Milton Bradley shut down publication of McLoughlin Brothers titles some time after the end of World War I; in 1951, Julius Kushner, a New York toy manufacturer, bought the trademark and reissued the Jolly Jump-Ups for a few years until some time about 1954. So The Jolly Jump-Ups Journey Through Space seems to have been something of a last hurrah for McLoughlin publications, and, indeed, its 1952 copyright date makes it quite possibly the last-issued McLoughlin publication in Cotsen’s collection.
Gone but not forgotten, the Jolly Jump-Ups pop-up books represent an important phase in American children’s book publishing, particularly in terms of “interactive” books or print items that push the envelope of what a “book” can be. So apart from sharing delight in the color-printing and ingenuity of pop-ups, I invite you to to use the Jump-Ups as an invitation to think about questions like, “What is a book?” and “What is it that a book can, or cannot, do”?