Thanks to librarians at Columbia University, a digitized copy of a medical pop-up book published in 1661 is now available for anyone to peruse on the worldwide web. Click here to flip through the 152-page book now.
The book, Catoptrum Microcosmicum, was created by Johann Remmelin (1583-1632) who designed male and female paper figures using a series of overlapping flaps to illustrate the successive layers of the human body. Referred to as an anatomist, Remmelin was a member of the Cavalier Generation (1618-1647).
Intended more for the curious layperson than the medical student or physician, Remmelin’s medical pop-up book work was a popular science best-seller of its day. It was reprinted numerous times throughout the 17th and 18th centuries and translated into Dutch, French, and German.
There are almost 120 flaps in the book. Though this is a later edition, the plates appear to be identical with those in the first edition of 1619.
Before it could be safely digitized, the fragile volume was first treated by professional conservators at the Columbia University Libraries’ Conservation Laboratory. A dark stain that obscured the text and caused embrittlement of the pages was reduced using moisture and a suction device. Many of the individual flaps were also carefully flattened and mended because they were tangled and could have easily become torn during use. The book was rebound and the old binding was stabilized and saved so that it will be available for future study.
Digitization was undertaken by the Libraries’ Preservation & Digital Conversion Division. To image the flaps pieces of glass were placed to hold them up so that the final image looks as if the flaps are standing all by themselves. With the assistance of conservators, imaging staff used special tools such as spatulas and fine tipped brushes to gently lift the flaps and then place the glass over the section. The glass rested on supports about an inch tall which prevented the glass from flattening the flaps against the page. The image was then taken through the glass from above. Opening the flaps and placing the glass required at least three, sometimes four, staff members.
Conserving and imaging the Remmelin is part of an ongoing project to restore and repair the larger quarto and folio rare books held by the Health Sciences Library’s Archives & Special Collections.
Click here to see a video of restoration of the medical pop-up book.