Tunnel Books

In anticipation of our exciting new workshop on tunnel books on December 8th, we are using this post to highlight some of the stunning tunnel books we have in our Rare Books department.

Top view of Die Eroberung von China durch die Engländer, a 19th Century tunnel book, showing its accordion folds.

About Tunnel Books

Tunnel books are a form of artist book that tells a story through a three-dimensional structure. They consist of a series of panels that are layered behind one another to create a sense of depth and perspective. Many, like the one pictured above, are structured to collapse and expand like an accordion. The concept of the tunnel book dates back to the mid-eighteenth century, and is still popular today.

Cover of Le Palais Royal, a tunnel book c. 1820.

View of the inside of Le Palais Royal, which is made of six interconnected panels.

Tunnels from the 19th Century

Also known as “peep shows,” many tunnel books have small openings on the front through which observers can view the scenes inside. The tunnel book shown above is Le Palais Royal: Optique No. 9, a tunnel book from Paris, France c. 1820. Its three separate “peep holes” provide three different telescopic views of the scenes of the palace fountain, garden, and visitors inside. The image above shows the view from the main peephole, while the photos below show the views from the smaller circular peepholes on either side.

View from the right side “peep hole” in Le Palais Royal.

View from the left “peep hole” of Le Palais Royal.

Le Palais Royal is one of two early nineteenth-century tunnel books that have been newly gifted to the Julian Edison Department of Special Collections by Andy Newman. The other, Die Eroberung von China durch die Engländer, was published in Germany c.1842 and features a hand-colored image of British troops moving toward the open gate of a walled Chinese city. Although these books contain no text, images like these clearly have a story to tell about the period in which they were created.

Inside view of Die Eroberung von China durch die Engländer, which contains six interconnected panels.

Contemporary Artist Books

Contemporary artists have also experimented with tunnel books. For example Julie Chen, who runs her Flying Fish Press out of California, created the tunnel book (In)versions (pictured below) in the year 2000, combining drawings by David Turner with her own collage and monoprint elements. You can read more about Julie Chen’s work in our previous blog post about contemporary book artists.

View of the top of Julie Chen’s (In)versions, 2000.

If you would like to have a chance to see some of these historic and contemporary tunnel books, and learn how to make one of your own, you can sign up for our tunnel books workshop here. Please see our previous blog post about our bookmaking workshops for more information.

Front of Julie Chen’s (In)versions.


About the author

Rose is a PhD candidate in English and American Literature at Washington University in St. Louis. When she is not working on her dissertation on post-1945 asylum novels or blogging about the amazing materials in Special Collections, she fills much of her time reading, writing, gardening, and wrestling.