Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library/Columbia University Medical Center
Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library/Columbia University Medical Center

Researchers at Columbia University recently digitized a 17th century pop-up book.


"Oh, an old children's book?" you might be thinking. "How charming."

You'd be wrong. The book, a German translation of Johann Remmelin’s Catoptrum Microcosmicum, published in Latin in 1613, represents different parts of the body as layers, in full, graphic anatomical detail. It's gnarly and definitely wasn't for kids.

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The full title of the book is Kleiner welt Spiegel, das ist, Abbildung Göttlicher Schöpffung an dess Menschen Leib: mit beygesetzer Schrifftlicher Erklärung and it was apparently a best-seller in its time. There are a number of editions, with the last one coming in 1754, and it exists in other languages. (The English translation is roughly "Microcosmic Mirror"). These types of pop-up books were invented even earlier and taught complex concepts in three dimensions.

Remmelin, who was a town doctor and plague physician in Germany, conceived of the book as a learning aid, though it was likely too expensive and delicate to actually be used by fellow physicians.

According to a statement from Columbia, the book isn't a medical textbook, but rather something for "the curious layperson." The researchers put a lot of work into the project, including several different intricate processes such as "using moisture and a suction device" to repair a stain that obscured some text and using tools like "spatulas and fine tipped brushes to gently lift the flaps" over pieces of glass so the flaps would appear to be standing on their own when they were digitized.

Illustration for article titled This 17th century pop-up book is definitely not for children

Weirdly, these so-called "mechanical books" were aimed at adults, which flies in the face of the modern interpretation and use of the format in children's books. Similar to the takeover of adult coloring books in 2015, there is no mistaking this for kid's lit.


The level of detail is high, but some of it is stomach-churning.

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Are there genitals? Yes, there are genitals. And facial hair.

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The torso (?) of a pregnant woman.

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Skeletons talking to amorphous, white figures.

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And eyes.

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Basically, this book is a series of nightmares, presented in a fun, inventive format. Just wait for the kids to grow up before you let them take a peek.

[H/T Smithsonian Mag]

David Matthews operates the Wayback Machine on—hop on. Got a tip? Email him:

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