Meet Ellen Rubin (aka The Popuplady) and Her Collection of 9,000 Pop-Up Books

It’s unusu­al to encounter a pop-up book for sale in a thrift store.

Their enthu­si­as­tic child own­ers tend to work them so hard, that even­tu­al­ly even sen­ti­men­tal val­ue is trashed.

Stuck slid­er bars and torn flaps scotch the ele­ment of sur­prise.

Scenes that once sprang to crisp atten­tion can bare­ly man­age a flac­cid 45° angle.

One good yank and Cinderella’s coach gives way for­ev­er, leav­ing an unsight­ly crust of dried glue.

Their nat­ur­al ten­den­cy toward obso­les­cence only serves to make author Ellen G. K. Rubin’s inter­na­tion­al col­lec­tion of more than 9000 pop-up and move­able books all the more aston­ish­ing.

The Popuplady—an hon­orif­ic she sports with pride—would like to cor­rect three com­mon­ly held beliefs about the objects of her high­ly spe­cial­ized exper­tise:

  1. They are not a recent phe­nom­e­non. One item in her col­lec­tion dates back to 1547.
  2. They were not orig­i­nal­ly designed for use by chil­dren (as a 1933 flip book with pho­to illus­tra­tions on how women can become bet­ter sex­u­al part­ners would seem to indi­cate.)
  3. They were once con­ceived of as excel­lent edu­ca­tion­al tools in such weighty sub­jects as math­e­mat­ics, astron­o­my, med­i­cine… and, as men­tioned above, the boudoir.

A Yale trained physician’s assis­tant, she found that her hob­by gen­er­at­ed much warmer inter­est at social events than her dai­ly toil in the area of bone mar­row trans­plants.

And while paper engi­neer­ing may not be not brain surgery, it does require high lev­els of artistry and tech­ni­cal prowess. It galls Rubin that until recent­ly, paper engi­neers went uncred­it­ed on the books they had ani­mat­ed:

Paper engi­neers are the artists who take the illus­tra­tions and make them move. They are pup­pet­mas­ters, but they hand the strings to us, the read­er.

As seen in Atlas Obscu­ra’s video, above, Rubin’s col­lec­tion includes a mov­ing postage stamp, a num­ber of wheel-shaped volvelles, and a one-of-a-kind ele­phant-themed mini-book her friend, paper engi­neer, Edward H. Hutchins, cre­at­ed from ele­phant dung paper she found on safari.

She has curat­ed or served as con­sul­tant for a num­ber of pop-up exhi­bi­tions at venues includ­ing the Brook­lyn Pub­lic Library, the Biennes Cen­ter of the Lit­er­ary Arts and the Smithsonian’s Nation­al Muse­um of Amer­i­can His­to­ry. See a few more exam­ples from her col­lec­tion, which were dis­played as part of the latter’s Paper Engi­neer­ing: Fold, Pull, Pop & Turn exhi­bi­tion here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Raven: a Pop-up Book Brings Edgar Allan Poe’s Clas­sic Super­nat­ur­al Poem to 3D Paper Life

French Book­store Blends Real People’s Faces with Book Cov­er Art

Won­der­ful­ly Weird & Inge­nious Medieval Books

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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