The Originality and Artistry of Lothar Meggendorfer

Lothar Meggendorfer (1847-1925), a gifted Munich-based illustrator, brought a visual sophistication and humor to movable books. His near-caricature drawings of faces reflect the nineteenth-century interest in physiognomy and its insight into personality types. Notice, for example, the difference between the delicate, elfin features of Little Lord Thumb and the coarser characteristics of his servant, Damian, as a graphic indication of class difference. Meggendorfer avoided using the movable merely as an interpretation of familiar tales, selecting instead his own whimsical topics. With an eye to comic possibility, he placed his subjects in ordinary situations but stripped them of their respectable layers, rendering them human. This, combined with expert drawing, gives his work a distinctive originality.

In contrast to other tabbed pop-up books of the day, Meggendorfer's mechanics make possible multiple movements within one scene. These actions hinge on an innovative and complex use of rivets and levers. In the scene from Travels entitled "The fight with an Ourang-Outang," the tug-of-war over the drawing sets in motion opposing movements. The monkey opens his eyes, drops his jaw, and moves his arms while Little Lord Thumb bends at the waist and extends his arms. Simultaneously, the birds shift nervously on their branch, and Damian throws his head back in laughter. We get a behind-the-scenes peek at the complex engineering necessary to put together these images in a late twentieth-century book, The Genius of Lothar Meggendorfer. (See Contemporary Pop-Ups and Movables section).

Both artist and inventor, Meggendorfer exercised great control over the production of his works. As described by Waldo H. Hunt, Meggendorfer created an initial model for a book, complete with colored drawings, paper engineering, and elaborate assembly instructions for the workers who put together individual copies. The earliest among these productions are hand-colored, but in later publications, chromolithography gives the range of warm, soft tints. As these productions were of high quality, their steep retail price of six deutsche marks made them affordable only to the wealthy. Nevertheless, from the 1880s to the 1900s, Meggendorfer's works enjoyed brisk sales and many reprintings.

Look at Me!

Meggendorfer, Lothar. Look at Me! London: H. Grevel, [1890s].

Dozens of interlocked parts and intricate rivets make the carpenters chop the wood, the musicians play their horns, and the nurse rock the baby in this Meggendorfer collection.

Allerlei für Jung und Alt

Meggendorfer, Lothar. Allerlei für Jung und Alt. Munich: Braun & Schneider, [1880s].

Although less dramatic in their movement, these images are beautifully drawn. This book's thematic eclecticism--Hercules, the Lamplighter, the Salamander, the Hunter--appeals to audiences "young and old."

Travels of Little Lord Thumb and His Man Damian

Meggendorfer, Lothar. Travels of Little Lord Thumb and His Man Damian. London: H. Grevel, [1890s].

The color in this book is printed. The story of a young "lord" and his "man" proliferates with class and cultural stereotypes as the duo travel through exotic lands for the amusement of the little dilettante aristocrat.

Immer Lustig!

Meggendorfer, Lothar. Immer Lustig! Munich: Braun & Schneider, [1880s].

This hand-painted volume showcases Meggendorfer's nimble imagination with images of characters moving to lead an orchestra, perform a magic trick, or administer harsh discipline. The simplicity of these actions contrasts with the complex animation in Little Lord Thumb.