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Secret Fore-Edge Paintings Revealed in Early 19th Century Books
September 2, 2013 7:10 PM   Subscribe

"A few days ago Colleen Theisen who helps with outreach and instruction at the Special Collections & University Archives at the University of Iowa shared an amazing gif she made that demonstrates something called fore-edge painting on the edge of a 1837 book called Autumn by Robert Mudie. Fore-edge painting, which is believed to date back as early as the 1650s, is a way of hiding a painting on the edge of a book so that it can only be seen when the pages are fanned out. There are even books that have double fore-edge paintings, where a different image can be seen by flipping the book over and fanning the pages in the opposite direction. When I realized the book Theisen shared was only one of a series about the seasons, I got in touch and she agreed to photograph the other three so we could share them with you here."
posted by SpacemanStix (23 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's pretty awesome.
posted by Mitheral at 7:17 PM on September 2, 2013


Neat.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:17 PM on September 2, 2013


Oooooo
posted by odinsdream at 7:23 PM on September 2, 2013


I wish publishers would do things like this now. I would buy more physical copies of books if they came with interesting novelties like this.
posted by SpacemanStix at 7:24 PM on September 2, 2013


damn, now I have to go fan the pages of all my old books...
posted by dejah420 at 7:58 PM on September 2, 2013


Colleen is doing amazing work on her Tumblr. Check out this miniature book that got a bunch of attention just last month.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:05 PM on September 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


A fascinating art
posted by unliteral at 8:13 PM on September 2, 2013


This is neat. When I was in high school, I used to do this to the pages of my textbooks, only instead of a lovely painting, mine would say "LED ZEPPELIN" or something.
posted by not_on_display at 8:44 PM on September 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


Thanks, pretty delightful stuff!
posted by HuronBob at 8:48 PM on September 2, 2013


Check out this miniature book that got a bunch of attention just last month.

This tiny book story cracks me up. The entry makes it sound like the librarians were originally all, "ugh this text is just too tiny, and where the hell would we ever be able to find a microscope in this giant research university anyway?" and eventually someone was like, "hey, maybe we should actually check and see what the tiny book says".
posted by threeants at 8:51 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, those are neat! I wonder what the technique was -- paint with the edges spread out, then close and gild?
posted by tavella at 9:44 PM on September 2, 2013


As much as I appreciate modern minimalism, there's something beautiful about the effort and care that goes into something like this and the pride in creation that it speaks of, not unlike beautifully illuminated manuscripts.
posted by immlass at 9:55 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Best thing about the miniature book is that it is only one book out of the miniature book collection.

Ebook publishers should steganographically embed images into ebooks so hundreds of years from now alien or robot archeologists can all wonder what our deal with cats was.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:33 PM on September 2, 2013


I have nothing to say other than that this is friggin' amazing.
posted by newdaddy at 10:56 PM on September 2, 2013


It's a lost art form that should totally be brought back, not simply because it has inherent value, but because there would still be an ongoing appreciation for this very thing. It's one of those things you didn't know you wanted or needed until you see it, and then when you do, you really want it!
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:15 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Horace Rumpole: Colleen is doing amazing work on her Tumblr. Check out this miniature book that got a bunch of attention just last month.

"Revealed: A Book the Size of a Ladybug"

Oh hello, I think someone wrote a headline targeted specifically at me!

(This is a great post. I love the fore-edge painting AND the miniature books!)
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:03 AM on September 3, 2013


Oh sweet, I work with the curator who wrote the post unliteral links to (the video she did is in the FPP). I'll ask if she can respond to some of the questions here.

Agree that the art is due for a comeback!
posted by roobot at 1:18 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wish publishers would do things like this now.

The closest we get might be fore-edge eReader download codes.

This is badass. Thanks.
posted by Rykey at 3:17 AM on September 3, 2013


Oh, those are neat! I wonder what the technique was -- paint with the edges spread out, then close and gild?

Yeah, exactly. I believe you would use a press to lock the textblock into the fanned position while you painted it, and then release it when dry.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:05 AM on September 3, 2013


It would be pretty easy to screen print fore edge art on modern books.
posted by Mitheral at 8:05 AM on September 3, 2013


Speaking of the press for making these, she's just posted a picture of one.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 1:51 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Cool. Thanks for posting.
posted by theora55 at 4:37 PM on September 3, 2013


Got a comment from Ruth Lightbourne, Rare Books Curator, about fore-edge paintings and the book in our video:
We had a lot of fun making this video of one of our fore-edge paintings. The book shown is one of several held in the Alexander Turnbull Library, New Zealand. To create these watercolours the leaves of a book are fanned out and held in position by a vice while the painting is in process. Once completed, the book is closed and the edges of the leaves are gilded, so that the painting "disappears" only re-appearing when the leaves are fanned again. On some books, however, the painting is painted directly onto the closed edges of the leaves, so that it is visible when the book is closed. The bookbinding firm, Fazakerley of Liverpool, was well-known for this style of fore-edge painting.

Pictorial scenes are believed to have been first practiced in England around 1650, with landscapes popularised by Edwards of Halifax in the late 18th century. Often these paintings bear no relation to the textual content of the book and may have been added many years after publication, so dating is not always straightforward. The fascinating art of painting fore-edges is continued today by modern exponents such as Margaret Allport (nee Costa), Clare Brooksbank, and Martin Frost.
posted by roobot at 5:11 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


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