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The Trippy History of Flip Books

(Photos: Ben Zurawski)

Long before there were smartphones or even animated .gif files (like the one below) on desktop computers, there were flip books. It's an old art form that Ben Zurawski continues today. He's an artist who specializes in the field. Pay him $400 and he'll make you a custom 15-second scene that you animate by flipping between your fingers.

Zurawski is also a collector of flip books from ages past and all around the world. He owns about 1,000 of them. Ben Marks of Collectors Weekly examined his collection and wrote a history of the medium. It emerged in the 1860s in Britain. During the Twentieth Century, companies often gave them away as promotional items, such as this chewing gum ad that shows two boxers in a match.

One of Zurawski's favorite pieces is this custom flip book made for a family. Biofix produced it and others like it showing individual families. It was like a home movie before video cameras became available:

The cover of one of Zurawski’s favorite flip-book series sports an even more durable material—tin, embossed to resemble the outside of a fancy leather-bound book. “The series is known as Biofix,” says Zurawski, “and it started in the late 1800s. Biofix was a company in London, Paris, and Brussels. People would sit in a photo booth and have a short scene of themselves filmed, like a husband and wife kissing or a family getting together. I have one of a little boy making faces. They’re like moving Polaroids, because there would only be the one copy of the flip book. There were no extras made, so they’re special, and they look really cool, too.”

You can view more impressive and rare flip books at Collectors Weekly.

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