Pop up!

Movable and pop-up books

Detail from 1887 circus pop-up book

Pop-up books — some of the most delightful items in the national collections — were on display from 20 November 2013 to 19 January 2014.


We presented a rare chance to admire a choice selection of pop-up books in our 'treasures' display.

Visitors to our George IV Bridge Building saw 24 volumes that highlight the best in paper architecture from the 19th century to the 21st.

As pop-up expert Jacques Desse has said: 'When a good movable book is opened, each page is like a Christmas present!'


Magical transformation

Pop-up or 'movable' books have delighted us for a very long time.

They are examples of what is often called 'paper engineering', where the reader is invited to turn the pages and discover a magical transformation.

Early printed books sometimes incorporated certain moving elements, usually for scientific purposes. But it was in the 18th century that paper engineering — such as printed peepshows — began to be used for entertainment.


3D scenes for children

In the 19th century, movable books for children became increasingly sophisticated, creating 3D scenes or 'dissolves' from one picture to another, courtesy of talents such as Ernest Nister.

Lothar Meggendorfer, the outstanding designer in Europe, used various paper mechanisms to spectacular effect, in books such as his 1887 'International circus'.


'Daily Express' annuals

Later, between the First and Second World Wars, Louis Giraud introduced sophisticated pop-up techniques to books like the 'Daily Express children's annual' and his 'Bookano' series.

In the 1930s the term 'pop-up' began to be applied and recognised.

Since then paper engineering has been used to entertain and educate extensively.


Photo of three pop-up books
Three pop-up books from the display

Subject no object

No subject seems now to be beyond the imagination and talents of the artists involved.

Science, the natural world, and history pop up from the pages just as often as familiar characters and fairy stories.

Contemporary books on display included:

  • 'Harry Potter' (2010), which gave Bruce Foster a challenge — recreating Hogwarts Castle out of paper
  • The night before Christmas' (2002) — Robert Sabuda is the paper engineer who makes Santa's busy reindeer gallop through the Christmas skies
  • 'Pop-up London' (2011) — Jennie Maizels worked with paper engineer Richard Ferguson to recreate all London's famous landmarks.



The treasures display in our George IV Bridge Building is a small sample of the millions of items in our collections. We change the display several times a year.

Past treasures displays



Treasures main page


Speak me