Happy World Book Day! In celebration, I’m going to share with you the books that make the biggest impression when I give tours: the fore-edge painting books. Fore-edge painting is the very old practice of painting tiny images on the edges of the pages.
The book block is angled and clamped while the tiny watercolor painting is made.
After drying, the clamp is released and a bookbinder applies marbling or gilt to the closed book. This makes the painting invisible when the book is closed, but it appears when the pages are fanned.
NSLM’s fore-edge painting collection is housed in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room. We have about 30 of them, and they depict riding, hunting, or fishing scenes.
Most of them date from the middle of the 19th Century to the early 20th Century. Although fore-edge painting is rare, there are still some artists who produce fore-edge art today.
Do you have a hidden painting in your old books? Check your book collections and fan the pages. You never know what you might find!