Page Turners in Paper Engineering: Fold, Pull, Pop & Turn

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Pop-up mechanisms—which allow certain elements to pop up from the surface of a book page—are just some of the paper construction types highlighted in the Libraries’ exhibit, Paper Engineering: Fold, Pull, Pop & Turn, on view in the Libraries’ gallery at the National Museum of American History. The exhibit, described on the Office of Exhibit Central’s (OEC) website in June 2010, includes 44 books that range in date from the mid-16th to the early 21st centuries, creating an intriguing retrospective of volumes, which were designed and constructed with parts that move.

Selected by Stephen Van Dyk, the exhibition curator and Librarian at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York, the books are divided into four primary categories according to each one’s paper construction type, as well as the mechanisms employed. The groups consist of Movables, Pop-Ups, Folding Mechanisms, and Fantastic Forms or Multiple Constructions. Examples of mechanisms contained in two of these categories—Pop-Ups and Multiple Constructions—can be activated by visitors to the gallery thanks to a clever page-turning device, loaned to the Libraries by Ann Montanaro, President of the Movable Book Society. Originally constructed by Waldo Hunt, publisher and founder of InterVisual Books, it was used as a prototype by OEC’s model shop to construct the page turners that are on display in the exhibit. Wow!: The Pop-Up Book of Sports(on the left) and The Pop-Up Book of Phobias (on the right), donated to the exhibition by Susan R. Frampton, are connected to the devices, and allow viewers to see the paper engineering mechanisms at work, at the push of a button.

A windshield wiper-like arm has a small fork at the end which captures the page and holds it in place. The arm is connected to a low-powered synchronous timing motor that is concealed inside the pedestal on which the device sits, which moves the arm back and forth; as the arm moves, the page follows along with it. By the time the arm has completed its trip from right to left, the previous page has been turned, and a new page has been revealed; the arm then moves in the opposite direction so that the previous page is visible once more. The cycle is slow enough that visitors can watch the book’s moving parts with ease, as they open and close.

“From studying the Libraries’ page turner, I had a good idea of how I wanted to construct the device for the Paper Engineering exhibit,” said OEC model maker, Jon Zastrow. “A low voltage push button activates a relay, and turns the 120V timing motor to the ‘on’ position. The page turner arm swings through its cycle. A micro switch opens the circuit, turning off the motor each time the arm reaches its ‘home’ position, until the button is pushed again, thereby conserving energy.” The fabric-covered pedestal on which the page turner sits, has a slot cut into it to provide a free range of motion for the device’s arm as it moves back and forth. The device, itself, is constructed of molded plexiglas, which serves as a book cradle.

The exacting design and engineering of the various book elements allow authors to create an infinite number of variations—at all levels of complexity—which work together successfully. The page turners help viewers see how the mechanisms function, and how the various elements connect to one another. Due to the great popularity of Paper Engineering: Fold, Pull, Pop, and Turn, the page turners have already completed thousands of revolutions. They will, no doubt, continue to delight visitors for thousands more revolutions to come.

Lori Dempsey, Office of Exhibits Central, Smithsonian Institution

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