Researching Ernest Nister has been a difficult pursuit as no business or personal archives are known. Additionally, as he appears to be of little interest today there are few researchers of Ernest Nister and the papers or text books they publish are difficult to acquire. What follows is a brief description of Nister and his publishing company that I was able to piece together from the few sources that are readily available.
Ernest Nister (1842–1906) was a publisher born in Darmstadt, Germany. Ernest spent his school days studying business. However what he did from then until 1877, I have been unable to determine. In 1877 Ernest acquired a small lithographic workshop in Nuremberg and set about modernising it. Most of the printing was done in chromolithography and the number of products the business produced included annuals, storybooks, toy books, poetry and religious stories, as well as calendars, greeting cards, embossed pictures and games. As these items are so ephemeral—calendars are normally disposed of at the end of each year—few examples exist today. However, I shall show some calendars and postcards I have found on the Internet.
Nister’s printing business also did work for other publishers like Castell, Farran, Griffith, Okeden and Routledge. Because of these contacts, Nister became a publisher in his own right in 1888 when he opened offices and design studios in London. Nister hired Robert Ellice Mack as director who was responsible for finding authors and illustrators as well as compiling and editing the books before sending them to Nuremburg for printing. Nister did very little of the creative work. Instead, he would organise and direct the workers, manage the business and supervise the printing process with the exception of wood engraving which was supervised by a co-worker named C. Priess. Distribution of the books in America was done by E.P. Dutton.
Ernest Nister is remembered most for his embossed, panoramic and movable books. Embossed books were an early speciality for Nister. From these embossed books Nister developed the pop-up book whereby the embossed figures were die-cut then mounted within a three dimensional framework. The figures were then connected to the opposing page, by paper or fabric guides, so that when the page is opened the figures rise from the page. Nister was not the first person to create pop-up books, however, he was the first to create automatic pop-up books. Prior to Nister’s invention, pop-up scenes had to be manually manoeuvred upright by the reader. Displayed below you will see two differing types of Nister’s pop-up book. The first two are three-dimensional scenes set within a frame that are connected to the opposing page. The third is frameless and is created by standing the book upright and lowering the page onto the table making the characters appear as though they are standing on a stage.
Another of Nister’s inventions is the dissolving picture which works like a venetian blind. The picture is divided into five parts and when the tab at the bottom of the picture is pulled another picture slides from underneath and covers the original.
The dissolving effect can also work with a sliding door type mechanism.
The third type of movable book Nister created was the revolving picture. The mechanism consisted of two disks that covered each other and were divided into six segments. Those segments in turn fit together in a star formation. When a tab in the frame was pulled, one disk slid over the other to reveal a new picture.
As you would have noticed from the image descriptions there is a problem with finding the identity of illustrators for Nister’s images. The illustrator is largely unknown as Nister did not consider it important to leave the signature in the picture so it was either cropped out during editing or colored over during printing. Nister also constantly reused images and even added or deleted features to the original images. The date is also almost always omitted and if it had not been for researchers who are willing to go through library catalogues and find the earliest release of the books, it would remain unknown.
Nister died in 1906 and left the publishing business to his son Ernest Nister Jr. At this time the business had about 600 employees and could produce prints using the three-color, photoengraving, wood engraving, heliogravure, collotype, copperplate, halftone engraving, blind embossing and chromolithography printing processes. The business would not last more than ten years. As World War I started and an export ban was placed on Germany the Ernest Nister Publishing Company was one of the many businesses that collapsed as a result.
There are many videos on YouTube showing examples of Ernest Nister Books.
If anyone wants to research further you will need this source list as they are hard to find and contain so many more details. I used many of these in putting together this article.
- Haining, Peter, Movable books: An illustrated history, London, New English Library, 1979.
- Krahe, Hildegard E., “The importance of being Ernest Nister,” Phaedrus, Vol. 13,1988, pp.73-90.
- Montanaro, Ann R., Pop-up and movable books: A bibliography, Metuchen, New Jersey, Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1993.
- Zipes, Jack, The Oxford encyclopedia of children’s literature, New York : Oxford University Press, 2006.
- A Concise History of Pop-up and Moveable Books
- Univesity of Florida Digital Collection
- Pop-up Lady: specializing in moveable paper
on your ernest nister march 23, 2016 post the pop up image of little red riding hood while e. stuart hardy did do all the illustrations / sketches in the book some of the pop ups may be from other artists if you look at the very bottom of the post red riding hood is leaning next to you will see the initals A.D. I think this is by Ada Dennis
Interesting catch. One of the amazing things about the internet is that mysteries that one person discovers can be shared with people who may have the answers. Maybe one of our other readers can clarify this for us. Thank you for your comment. -Ron
I have Hide & Seek Pictures A Book of Surprises for the Little Ones Number 3921 by Ernest Nister, and am trying to find information about it.
I am not an expert in this field so can only give basic information.
The best place to get information about this book is from the Movable Book Society. They have a website and email that you can use. Their email is [email protected] and their website is here https://movablebooksociety.org Many of the pop up book experts are located in America, so if you live in that country there are many other people you can contact, if this group does not treat you well.
I know little about this book. Most sources say that the book was published in 1913 by Ernest Nister, illustrated (at least partly) by George Henry Thompson and written by Constance M Lowe.
I️ am looking for a biography on G. H. Thompson, illustrator for Nister?
George Henry Thompson, who was British, was an illustrator for Ernest Nister. I do not know of any biographies for this artist but The Movable Society may have information about him. Try emailing them at [email protected] they also have a website http://www.movablebooksociety.org
How unfortunate that the company collapsed.
That man seems to have been an extremely talented artist and craftsman.
But that is what happens, even to innocent people, in a country that has a bad habit of starting world wars.
Yes it is unfortunate that the company collapsed, especially as his son inherited the business only ten years before. So many other great businesses must have suffered the same fate at this time.
Are you aware of a bibliography on Nister. “Peeps into Nisterland”
The book you are asking about is a rare object to find, I have seen some catalogues that state it is a limited edition of only five hundred copies. Most of the libraries that do hold this book are either in the U.S.A. or the U.K. Additionally, it’s rarity means that it is always more than one hundred dollars (U.S.) on book resale sites. The details about this book are –
Peeps into Nisterland : a guide to the children’s books of Ernest Nister
By Julia Hunt; Frederick Hunt 358pp Chester : Casmelda Publishing, 
The book is a limited edition of 500 copies signed by the authors.
This publication is a guide to the children’s books of Bavarian publisher Ernest Nister, with 358 pages of information, including 60 pages of colour illustrations. This work has been painstakingly gathered and collated over 21 years, both from the author’s collection, and from others including the British Library’s Nister collection of over 2000 books.
As I am unaware of whether you want to buy or look at the book here are two links. World Catalogue is a global cataloging site that tells a books location, within public libraries – http://www.worldcat.org/title/peeps-into-nisterland-a-guide-to-the-childrens-books-of-ernest-nister/oclc/71719789
Directtextbook.com catalogues all the resellers that have the book for sale – https://www.directtextbook.com/isbn/9780955216800
Alternatively there is also a partial bibliography in the Phaedrus article.