Three Movable Books

This year, the Movable Book Society holds its eleventh biennial conference here in Boston, and the John J. Burns Library is providing a display of three items from our collection starting Wednesday, September 14th.



The Plagues of Egypt volvelle, turned to display the first, seventh, and tenth plagues, respectively. Hagadah li-yeladim, BM675.P4 z687313 1948 GENERAL, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

The Hagadah li-yeladim – the “Children’s Haggadah” (1948) – allows children to follow along with the Passover Seder. This text features a total of five movable images. The first features a pull-tab allowing the reader to make Baby Moses float forward and back among the bulrushes, while a flap reveals or conceals the Egyptians about to discover him. The second and third operate as opposites sides of the book’s sole volvelle, the technical term for a disk of paper sandwiched in the middle of two sheets that may be turned (via an exposed edge on the side) to make different aspects appear in the cutout window. The first side of our children’s Haggadah’s volvelle sets a succession of slaves to work between two Egyptian taskmasters; the second side reveals the Ten Plagues of Egypt in gruesome succession from fish gasping in a red blood river to a man wailing over an empty cradle. Further on, the flight across the parted Red Sea features the attacking Egyptian army, which the reader can sink into the water at his or her leisure (see video below). The final moving element shows a modern-day Passover scene; the pull-tab reveals in three successive stages a young boy in the process of finding the hidden matzo.


Advertisement for Dr. Quinn’s mail-order studio, McClure’s, March 1922.

The second item on display is the Quinn-Dex. You see the fingers move,” proclaims the subtitle, and indeed you do; the Quinn-Dex is a flip-book demonstrating proper piano-playing technique. Claiming proudly on its cover to be “The First Employment of Moving Pictures in Teaching Piano and Organ,” this creation of Marcus Lucius Quinn consists of a fat stack of bound pages that produce a few seconds of visual demonstration; double-sided pages maximize the amount of instruction stored in the space available. That still doesn’t amount to a great deal, however, and the Quinn-Dex may in fact be more of a clever marketing gimmick for Quinn’s business than anything else. The Marcus Lucius Quinn Conservatory of Music advertised extensively in magazines during the late teens and early twenties, with ads appearing in publications ranging from McClure’s to Popular Science to Christian Thought. An ad in the March 1922 edition of McClure’s features Dr. Quinn boasting, “I Teach Piano a Funny Way.” Quinn’s “funny way” may not have revolutionized the teaching of music, but it did leave behind a noteworthy relic in the Quinn-Dex. To see it in action, click the video below:




Finally the exhibit features Thomas McCarthy’s Six Years (Traffic Street Press, 2004), a sequence of six poems relating incidents in the life of a man in Ireland as he contemplates,


Six Years, 
PR6063.A16315 S5 2004 OVERSIZE, John J. Burns Library, Boston College opened for maximum display.

in succession, his wife (1789), four “young Ursulines” (also 1789), the grave of Amade Dill-Wallace (1800), “the meaning of constant happiness” (1807), his wife again, this time while ill (1821), and a meeting with Presbyterians (1829). The book is structured as a single sheet (printed on only one side), pleated like an accordion; it is likely meant to suggest traditional ballad-sheet printing, which, like Six Years, was printed one-sided for display. The construction allows it to be stood up and the entirety of the text to be displayed at once. The copy on display is numbered as #6 of 30 in a very limited printing, and the back cover is signed by the author.


The 2016 Moveable Book Society Conference will be held September 15-17. For more on the Burns Library books displayed, contact the Burns Library reading room at 617-552-4861 or


  • Eric Pencek, Burns Library Reading Room Assistant & PhD Candidate in the English Department



Marcus Lucius Quinn Conservatory of Music. “I Teach Piano a Funny Way.” Advertisement. McClure’s Magazine March 1922: 121.

—. Quinn-Dex: You See the Fingers Move. Boston: N.p., 1918.

McCarthy, Thomas. Six Years. St. Paul, MN: Traffic Street Press, 2004.

Silbermann, Abraham H. Hagadah li-yeladim. London: Shapiro, Valentine & Co., 1948.

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 200,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
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