Here’s something you don’t get to see every day, even if you work with rare books:
(Note: if your device or browser doesn’t display the video, view it directly at http://www.flickr.com/photos/amherst_college_archives/8548671802/ )
The practice of decorating the fore-edge of a book with a hidden painting was “popularised in the 18th [century] by John Brindley and (in particular) Edwards of Halifax, whereby the fore-edge of the book, very slightly fanned out and then held fast, is decorated with painted views or conversation pieces.¹ The edges are then squared up and gilded in the ordinary way, so that the painting remains concealed (and protected) while the book is closed; fan out the edges and it reappears.”²
The Archives and Special Collections holds eight examples of hidden fore-edge paintings. Below are pictures of three of them, showing the edge both closed and fanned.
Our last two examples are multi-volume works. When closed, the edges are plain gilt, just like Poems above, so I have left that out and show only the fanned images:
If you want to learn more about this astonishing form of book decoration, I highly recommend the following:
- this great online resource from the Boston Public Library includes background articles and many videos and images of the 200+ examples of fore-edge paintings in their collection
- a blog post from the Folger Shakespeare Library on the subject
- an online exhibit from the Lilly Library
- an online exhibit including an extensive bibliography from Marist College Archives and Special Collections
¹ You can see pictures of how the book is clamped in position, without damage, on this page from Johns Hopkins University.
² Carter, John, and Nicolas Barker, ABC for Book Collectors (New Castle, Del.: Oak Knoll Press, 2006), 8th ed., corr., 108.