Ernest Nister: The Sentimental Sensibility

Though primarily involved with his successful color-printing business, publisher and printer Ernest Nister (1842-1909) specialized in colored toy and movable picture books. Operating in both Nuremberg and London in the 1890s, this entrepreneur developed a distinctive style firmly lodged within nineteenth-century aesthetics. However, Nister's images outshine those of his contemporaries by epitomizing an exquisite, sentimental beauty. His artistic vision guides all the works regardless of pop-up mechanics and even of illustrator. In fact, we are uncertain to what extent Nister contributed his own illustrations to these books. In many cases, he imposed his own monogram on images in his imprint, dropping the artist's signature in the course of the production process.

Nister used a wide range of movable techniques to intrigue children. The popular late nineteenth-century blind format of Changing Pictures, for example, capitalizes on a child's fascination with peek-a-boo. We are surprised to find Jack climbing the beanstalk behind Little Bo-Peep. Nister also animates his pages with simple slats, dimensional scenes, and remarkable pinwheel mechanics. With these basic paper tools, he creates fantastic transformations.

Happy Families and Their Tales

Happy Families and Their Tales: A Volume of Pictures and Stories of Domestic Pets. London: Ernest Nister; New York: E. P. Dutton, [1890].

The families in these images are composed of domestic animals--cows, kittens, dogs, rabbits, goats--moving like little puppets in their tranquil scenes.

Changing Pictures: A Book of Transformation Pictures

Changing Pictures: A Book of Transformation Pictures. London: Ernest Nister; New York: E. P. Dutton, [1893].

On the opening page, a showman, presenting a drama in a theatrical setting, ushers us into this "book of transformation pictures." Nister fulfills this promise of entertainment with the beautifully crafted action in which one image slides aside to reveal another.

Pretty Polly

Pretty Polly. London: Ernest Nister; New York: E. P. Dutton, [1890s].

Polly, a brilliantly colored parrot, outsmarts the cats in one of the story lines in this work. She shares the pages with fairytale coaches, adventures to the seaside, and other fantasy stories written and illustrated to engage a child's imagination.

Nister's Panorama

Nister's Panorama. London: Ernest Nister; New York: E. P. Dutton, [1890s].

In the title of this work, Nister capitalizes on the nineteenth-century fascination with the theater. Here, he refers to the panorama, a kind of performance in which an extended painted scroll revealed one scene after another. The large-scale display, which jumps off the page, brings us back into the schoolroom, where we find Dr. Snarl an unequal match for his unruly students.

The Land of Long Ago

Weedon, L. L. The Land of Long Ago: A Visit to Fairyland with Humpty Dumpty. Illus. E. Stuart Hardy. London: Ernest Nister; New York: E. P. Dutton, [1890].

The "long ago" of this book's title speaks to a "never never" land of fairytales. The casting of such stories into a remote historical past cuts them loose from any connection to reality.