You can find a lot of surprises in a collection of 27,000 books that spans 493 years of publishing, printing, and binding. Here are three of the most surprising types of rare books you can find in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room here at NSLM.
3. Presentation Copies
Strictly speaking, a presentation copy is a book that was presented by the author as a gift to a friend or relative. Often, the gift is memorialized in the front pages of the book through an inscription of the gift. Presentation copies are usually early copies printed specifically to be given as gifts, and will bear the inscription on or near the date of publication. Many authors inscribed presentation copies in the 18th and 19th Centuries, and modern authors tend to tip in a typed and signed slip commemorating the gift.
2. Cosway Bindings
A book with a Cosway binding has a miniature portrait inlaid in the cover binding. Introduced and popularized in the early 20th Century, this rare binding is named for Richard Cosway (1742-1821), a British artist renowned for his miniature paintings. Books with Cosway bindings are sought after as collectibles.
1. Fore-Edge Paintings
Fore-edge painting is the practice of painting tiny images on the edges of book pages. The practice is nearly unheard-of in the United States, but is still practiced by a few artists in Europe today. Fore-edge painting became popular in the middle of the 19th Century, with amateur artists painting watercolors on books with expensive leather bindings. Paintings are often gilt over to hide the artwork, which only emerges when pages are turned. Check your collection! You might have a fore-edge painting and not even know it.