The Carol Barton Pop-Up Book Collection

by Fiona Wirth

Have you ever had an interest in paper engineering? The Carol Barton Pop-Up Collection found in Special Collections has over 700 examples of movable books. Jen LeMay and Fiona Wirth, two student assistants, spent several weeks this summer preparing the collection for use. Additions to Special Collections require organization, preservation, and archival processing. Fiona and Jen were tasked with recording each book’s structure and analyzing the multi-faceted techniques used to engineer these three dimensional worlds. Elements used to form each pop-up were identified, including “box cuts” that can create stairs in their most basic form, “pull tabs,” “flaps” (lifted to reveal hidden images), “rotating volvelles,” (a fancy term for a spinning wheel), and many more. The information collected will be added to the library catalogue so they may be retrieved for instruction sessions in the reading room when art classes visit the library to view examples of paper engineering techniques.

Most of the pop-up elements identified involved cuts and creases made in the paper. Jen and Fiona examined each book and wrote the elements found on a preliminary check list that will eventually accompany the books to cataloging. For example, here is a photo of a valley fold, aka “v-fold.” V-folds can be any shape or design but are classified by the way they pleat into the book’s seam or “gutter.”

A common pop-up element example is the “floating platform.” These are characterized by three or more tabbed props elevating a level plane. Floating platforms are often used to produce even more intricate pop-ups because they can be easily combined with other elements such as box cuts and v-folds.

Some of the best book structures are 3-D to the extreme and incredibly interactive. Sam’s Pizza by David Pelham, is shaped like a pizza box! Once opened, the story is told through flaps revealing each layer of the pizza. This narrative is especially entertaining as it details the ways a brother sneaks various insects into his sister’s food, including cockroaches (an especially unwelcome library visitor).

Another aspect of this project tackled was separating the miniature and over-sized pop-ups from the larger collection. Pop-up books come in many shapes, including carousels, pyramids, and spheres. They also come in many sizes, which allows different levels of three-dimensionality to be manipulated on each page. Peter Rabbit is one of the smallest pop-ups in our collection, shown here in contrast to our largest book, Richard Scarry’s Biggest Pop-Up Book Ever!

The mini books generally have fewer pop-up elements than their larger counterparts (usually just flaps), and are often children’s stories or nursery rhymes. The over-sized books can accommodate more of the floating platforms or spirals that lift dynamically off the pages.  

If these pop-ups and their elements interest you, be sure to come view them in Special Collections! From big to small, from unique designs to silly stories, the Carol Barton Pop-Up Book Collection has enough diverse pop-ups as to interest any and everyone!

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