Monday, 17 March 2014

Moveable cards animated: guest post by Larry Seidman

I came across Larry Seidman's superb animated site of moveable cards from the Biedermeier period when I was working on valentines, and am delighted that Larry has accepted my invitation to write a post about the site, which makes inspirational use of technology. The YouTube videos also give wonderful insights into the mechanisms of paper moveables and optical and tin mechanical toys.

All images are (C) Collection of Larry Seidman and are reproduced here with permission

"Instant Family" Pull tab Movable hand colored Biedermeier card ca 1820

If a picture is worth a thousand words then a gif is worth a thousand pictures! These animated gifs show the mechanisms behind the hand colored copper engravings of pull tab movable cards from the Biedermeier period 1815-1835. They were made in Europe primarily in Germany and France and England. Some are completely hand done in watercolor. Many were given out as greeting cards or the modern day equivalent of valentine cards. 

Dancing with my friend
Pull tab Biedermeier card ca1820 (C) Collection of Larry Seidman
These were the predecessors of the well known movable books by Nister and Meggendorfer.  Some of the mechanisms were very elaborate. There are scans of the reverse sides of the cards which show how the levers activate many simultaneous moving parts with the pull of one tab. This gives a behind the scenes look into the mind of the paper engineers from 200 years ago!
Churn that butter!
European hand colored engraving ca 1840s movable pull tab card

A gif is basically a file format that shows animation on the web. The technique employed is rather labor intensive but provides a nice resolution to the cards.  It gives a cleaner image than in a video.
Individual scans of the cards are taken sequentially by pulling the tab a little bit more each time.   The technique utilized is similar to the stop-motion of the old Wallace and Gromit cartoons. The scans are edited and sequenced  in Photoshop  and then uploaded into the tumblr blog as a gif file. 

Movable Biedermeier card Germany ca 1820.
“Die mutter zärtlichkeit ist dieser vogel sitte.
So wünsch ich einstens dich in deiner kinder mitte”.
A mother’s tenderness is this bird-sitting.
I wish you at least one child in your ‘nest’.

 I have collected these fragile cards for 25 years and have over 100 in my collection.  I especially like the unique and elaborate mechanisms that never show up in book form. It is a miracle they have survived! Many have been restored (by reattaching the broken threads) by Robin Collins, giving new life to these superb mechanisms. Both she and I will be speaking at the Movable Book Society conference this September in Philadelphia so please come. 

For those interested there are short movies of my collection on YouTube:

Moveable cards:

Miniature moveable books parts 1 and 2:

Modern miniature moveable artist books:
and mechanical tin and optical toys:

You can contact me direct by email:


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  2. Thank you for such an interesting blog post! I love vintage interactive cards and I'm always looking for inspiration to make my own versions. ^_^