A Cornucopia of Pop-Up Ads From an Avid Collector

Good morning. It’s Wednesday. Today we’ll look at advertising that moves when you look at it, without batteries, film or video. We’ll also find out how plans for casinos in New York City are coming along.

Credit…Nicole Neenan

In Ellen G.K. Rubin’s world, New York skyscrapers rise and fall when she wants them to — without messy rubble.

Or the Flatiron Building gives way to the Brooklyn Bridge, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the old Sixth Avenue El.

A swing-and-twang band sails across open water — without getting wet or splashing Rubin.

It’s a world of flaps, fold-outs and pull-tabs that make three-dimensional objects pop up from two-dimensional books or cards, and move. It passed for animation before Disney or Pixar.

There are pickup trucks that climb mountains. There is a polar bear that beats a drum over and over and over, like an Energizer bunny without batteries. There is a paper Elvis that leaps from the center of a page with his backup band and Las Vegas in the background.

From her collection of more than 11,000 movables, Rubin has culled 170 of the most fragile items — advertisements, material that was meant to be discarded but was often the most difficult to produce. They appear in an exhibition called “Animated Advertising: 200 Years of Premiums, Promos and Pop-Ups” at the Grolier Club, 47 East 60th Street, until Feb. 11.

“Greater complexity entails the greatest cost,” she wrote in an introduction for the exhibition, adding that she was “astounded at the time, effort and money poured into many of these objects.” But she said it made sense that complicated and fanciful three-dimensional ads would be made for industries with the biggest advertising budgets. This explains the ads for alcohol, automobiles and drugs, with food and tobacco right behind, she said.

Still, advertisements are relative newcomers among pop-ups. Movable books have existed since at least the Middle Ages. The technology was once advanced — paper, glue, knives and scissors — with a lot of hand labor. That has not changed, Rubin said. Nowadays, most pop-ups are assembled in China and Vietnam.

Rubin came late to pop-ups. “I never had a pop-up book as a child,” she told me. “I bought two of them for my sons, the oldest of whom is 50.” She got serious about collecting pop-ups after she saw an exhibition about “eccentric books” at the Sterling Memorial Library at Yale University. “That’s when I saw the depth of possibilities in collecting movable books,” she said, and she began collecting them.

She took over her sons’ bedrooms when they went to college. When she moved to Manhattan last year from Westchester County, “my apartment would not hold the collection,” she said. The pop-ups got their own separate apartment.

The oldest movable in her collection dates to 1547, she said. Then she corrected herself. “I just bought a book from 1535,” she said. “I moved the timeline back 12 years.” The one from 1547 was a late edition of a book that had been in print since the 13th century. It said the sun revolved around the earth. The one from 1535 is based on Cicero.

Rubin said that collecting movables had given her something to say at cocktail parties.

“I used to do bone marrow transplants,” said Rubin, who was a physician associate. “People would say ‘What do you do?’ I would say ‘bone marrow transplants.’ They immediately left to refresh their drinks. I learned to say ‘I collect pop-up books.’ They smile and they say, ‘Oh, I had them as a child’ or ‘I buy them for my children.’”


Enjoy a partly sunny day near the low 50s. At night, prepare for a chance of rain late, with temps dropping to the high 30s.


In effect until Saturday (Lunar New Year’s Eve).

The latest New York news

Credit…Julia Nikhinson/Associated Press
  • Case against police officer dropped: Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have moved to dismiss a case against a Police Department officer charged with providing Chinese consular officials with intelligence about Tibetans living in the United States.

  • Committee assignments for George Santos: Representative George Santos will be given a seat on two committees — Small Business and Science, Space and Technology.

  • The costuming of Santos: Throughout history, the greatest grifters have understood that dressing the part is half the game. And so it has been with Representative George Santos, writes our fashion critic, Vanessa Friedman.

  • Trial of former Mexican lawman: Genaro García Luna is accused of helping a drug cartel to move products into the United States, avoid scrutiny by Mexican law enforcement and even attack rivals. He is now on trial in Federal District Court in Brooklyn.

  • Syracuse drive-by shooting: The Syracuse police were searching for the assailant in a drive-by shooting that killed an 11-year-old girl who lived nearby as she was apparently walking home after buying milk.

Casino proposals put the emphasis on amenities and benefits

Credit…Hannah Beier for The New York Times

Casinos are coming to the New York City region, and my colleague Stefanos Chen writes that the charm offensive has begun to persuade skeptical city officials and community boards to look past the slot machines and poker tables and see the potential economic benefits.

Not to mention the other elements of the developers’ multibillion-dollar proposals that have nothing to do with gambling. “The gaming will be less than 10 percent of the resort,” said Jon Weinstein, a spokesman for Related Companies, which hopes to turn the western portion of its Hudson Yards development into a “pre-eminent convention and entertainment district” with its partner, Wynn Resorts.

Another bid calls for a Ferris wheel in Midtown Manhattan, steps from a museum that would display slabs of the Berlin Wall. The company that owns the Saks Fifth Avenue department store chain wants to turn the top three floors of its flagship location, just across from St. Patrick’s Cathedral, into a high-end casino. Other bids envision luxury resorts surrounded by green space.

And a recent presentation by SL Green Realty Corp. and Caesars Entertainment — which want to convert Green’s office tower at 1515 Broadway into a hotel, casino and entertainment complex — put the emphasis on “impact” and “halo effect,” not table games.

“Imagine the benefits,” said Marc Holliday, the chairman and chief executive of SL Green, as he talked about thousands of new jobs and millions of new visitors to Times Square at a time when Broadway is still struggling to recover from the pandemic. The office market is struggling, too: nearly a fifth of office space is available in Manhattan, according to CBRE, a commercial real estate firm.

The casino proposals promise sweeteners. The proposal from SL Green and Caesars would give the Minskoff Theater in the building, where “The Lion King” has played for 17 years, a more prominent entrance. And Holliday said the partnership would buy millions of dollars of tickets a year to local shows as part of a rewards program for patrons that would also channel guests to nearby restaurants.

The state’s Gaming Facility Location Board will decide where three casinos will be licensed in New York City and surrounding areas. It took the first step toward accepting applications in early January. The bidders will have to pay a gambling license fee of at least $500 million on top of at least $500 million on capital investments. The formal bids will not be submitted for months.

Many industry lobbyists believe that two of the three licenses will go to existing operations in Yonkers and Queens, the so-called racinos that currently have horse race tracks and digital betting, but no human dealers. That would leave one site up for grabs. The developers who hope to win it are preparing to pay a nonrefundable $1 million application fee.


Theater treat

Dear Diary:

I was on my way in to see “The Collaboration.” A security guard who was checking my purse paused when he saw the small shopping bag I had. Looking inside, he was obviously curious about the 10 small bags I had there.

“These are candied pecans,” I explained, hoping they wouldn’t be confiscated. “I’m meeting friends inside, and I always make them for the holidays.”

He looked me in the eye, tilted his head back and cooed.

“Ooh, I love pecans!” he said in a deep drawl.

“I’m so sorry,” I said. “I brought only enough for my friends.”

When the show was over, the same gentleman was holding the door to the street open as the crowd made its way out. As luck would have it, one of my friends had not been able to make it, leaving with me with an extra bag of nuts.

I paused in the doorway and placed the bag in the man’s hand.

“Merry Christmas, sir!” I said.

His smile lit up the street.

— Peggy Dannemann

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.

Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

Melissa Guerrero and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].


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