Meg Brown gave an engaging talk about a 2011 exhibition at Duke University that showcased the flap anatomies in their collection.
Though there is no standardized terminology for these works (“moveable books”, “anatomical atlases” and “fugitive sheets” numbering among their aliases), Meg defined flap anatomies as “paper based, printed images with more than one layer illustrating an aspect of human anatomy” for the purposes of her talk. She discussed the history of flap anatomies, spoke to the common conservation problems of these unique materials, and gave tips on exhibiting them.
**I have included images of some of the works Meg spoke about (or similar works). I will give the same warning that she did – many of these images depict the naked human form. If that is not something you wish to see, do not keep reading**
Flap anatomies began in the 16th century, and were primarily printed in Germany. It is thought that they were used by barbers and surgeons as reference guides, for dissection was rare even where it was not outright illegal.
The first known flap anatomy (then known as a fugitive sheet) was printed in 1538 by Vogtherr, Heinrich. Duke University holds a 1539 copy of one of his works. The illustrations were hand-colored. Copies of this work are generally in good condition for a number of reasons:
The paper stock is high-quality
The top layer, which shows the skin level of human anatomy, is large enough to protect the smaller layers.
The top layer is well adhered.
Johann Remmelin (c. 1613) produced highly technical flap anatomies that were believed to have been created for students and professionals. His images were highly valued, and they were republished and stolen for many centuries.
Remmelin’s works also owe their survival to high quality paper and a large/well-adhered top layer. The top flap layer is a full printed sheet with the flap area hand cut before adhesion. Interior pieces were adhered by tabs or even left loose within the protective covering of the surface sheet so that they could be removed and inspected. Instructions to the binders for this practice survive to this day.
In the mid-1800s, Edward Tuson produced his Myology. The flap anatomies in this volume are produced with multi-directional tabs that provide resistance against lifting it. Meg described the sensation of lifting the flaps as akin to muscle tension!
Myology was a lithographic print, which was hand coloured.
Myology displayed small bits, such as veins and muscles in addition to organs.
Two decades later, George Spratt published a flap anatomy that served as an instructional for midwives. Like the Remmelin volumes, Sprat used the sandwiching effect of full pages for both his base and surface sheets. Spratt’s base page was blank, and the surface sheet was slit – allowing the layered tabs to be adhered in between the two, sandwiched sheets.
Beginning around the same time that Spratt was educating midwives, Frederick Hollick created the first mass-market flap anatomies. He continued to publish into the early 1900s. His volumes were intended to educate the public at large. As you can see, the surface layers became quite a bit more demure once the flap anatomies were marketed for public consumption.
Quality of paper and construction went swiftly downhill, as publishers sought to make economical mass-market flap anatomies. As a result, the flap anatomies of Hollick and his successors are in much worse condition than earlier works.
Gustave Witkowski followed in Hollick’s footsteps. His flap anatomies were part of a larger trend of popularized science. New technologies like die cutting and double-sided color printing helped economize Witkowski’s editions. Minimal adhesive was used, because die-cutting allowed many diagrams to be cut from one sheet. Unfortunately, the new technology of wood-pulp paper also insured that his editions are extremely brittle and fragile today.
Exhibiting such fragile, three dimensional works is difficult proposition. How does one best display the intricate layers while providing gentle support? Meg’s answer came from a colleague – and thus her talk came with handouts! Meg used small rolls of a light-weight mylar to support the flaps. The mylar was flexible enough that the flaps could determine their own angle of open-ability and clear enough to be no detriment to the layers beneath.
To accompany Duke University’s exhibition, Meg prepared a Flap Book Biography, a supplemental online exhibition and a video as well!
Thanks to Meg for a fantastic talk.
P.S. Marieka Kaye of the Huntington Library gave a talk on their use of facsimile flap anatomies for their Beautiful Science exhibition. Long story short? Make your facsimiles STURDY. Laminate the pieces. Use elastic thread. Make multiple copies for replacement parts. (You can imagine which pieces go missing most often). The blogpost on her discussion group talk can be found here.