Those of you who have been on a tour of the Library’s F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room will be familiar with our collection of fore-edge books. We always include one of these on tours as the lovely paintings hidden on their edges, and visible only when the pages are fanned, never fail to impress. These paintings were added after the book was published and typically the artist is unknown. Very often we display a copy of the Bible, published in 1839, that shows a hawking scene when its pages are fanned.

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Bible (1839) with fore edge painting, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

Recently I made a connection between this fore-edge painting and another item in the Library’s collection which reveals the artist’s inspiration if not their identity. Compare the image above with this one by Henry Alken…

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The National Sports of Britain, Hawking, Henry Alken (1821). National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

While the fore-edge painting has been simplified, it is clearly the same image. Henry Alken’s version was published in The National Sports of Great Britain in 1821. The Bible with the corresponding fore-edge painting wasn’t published until 1839, and the fore-edge painting would have been added after that date. The artist must have been a fan of Alken’s work. They wouldn’t have been alone.

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Book plate in The National Sports of Great Britain, Henry Alken (1823). National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

Henry Alken (1785 – 1851) was a prolific painter and illustrator. The Library holds upwards of 60 volumes of his work. His subjects included all varieties of sporting topics as well as coaching scenes. He created numerous sets of etchings, often hand colored, depicting sporting scenes.

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Sporting Sketches, Henry Alken (1817). National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

He also specialized in comical vignettes or satirical illustrations such as this image from Hunting or Six Hours Sport (1823), titled Breaking Covert.

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Hunting or Six Hours Sport, Henry Alken (1823). The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

One of the things I love the most about Alken’s work isn’t actually any part of his images but rather the publisher that he frequently partnered with to produce his books. Thomas McLean, a publisher based in London, used the added sobriquet, Repository of Wit and Humour. Now this is a person I would love to meet at a party! I really must come up with a similar tagline myself. Perhaps, Keeper of Curiosities and Wonders?

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Hunting or Six Hours Sport, Henry Alken (1823). National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

In addition to extensive holdings of Alken’s published works, the Library has two items containing his original work. The first gives an interesting insight into Alken’s process.  It’s titled Cartoons and is a collection of preliminary stick figure sketches that would eventually be fleshed out into the finished images in his published works.

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Cartoons, Henry Alken. National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

Here’s a close up of two images, both of which were destined to be part of Alken’s comical works.

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“Keep Up Your Muzzle,” from Cartoons, Henry Alken. National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.
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“Endeavouring to Stop.” Cartoons, Henry Alken. National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

The other volume of original works is a collection of drawings, paintings, and watercolors. It’s called Horses: Original Drawings. Here are two examples. The first is a watercolor.

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Horses: Original Drawings, Henry Alken. National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

The second is a drawing.

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Horses: Original Drawings, Henry Alken. National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

If you would like to explore the Library’s holdings of Alken’s work, I would be happy to oblige. Nearly all of it is housed in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room so please contact us to make an appointment before you visit.


SONY DSCErica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact Erica by e-mail

 

 

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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

Howitt's Animals, by Samuel Howitt (1765-1822), a collection of proofs of Howitt's sporting etchings. Inscription (right): "The gift of Samuel Howitt, who etched them, to his friend William Edkins." A letter to Edkins (left) is pinned to the facing page.
Howitt’s Animals, by Samuel Howitt (1765-1822), a collection of proofs of Howitt’s sporting etchings. Inscription (right): “The gift of Samuel Howitt, who etched them, to his friend William Edkins.” A letter to Edkins (left) is pinned to the facing page.

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

The Compleat Angler, by Izaak Walton (1594-1683). Chiswick: The Caradoc Press, 1905. This Cosway Binding features a portrait of Walton on ivory and under glass, all laid into a beautiful front board.
The Compleat Angler, by Izaak Walton (1594-1683). Chiswick: The Caradoc Press, 1905. This Cosway Binding features a portrait of Walton on ivory and under glass, all laid into a beautiful front board.

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

Fishing Scene, Fore-edge painting, fanned to the right. The Poetical Works of Thomas Campbell, London, Edward Moxon, 1840.
Fishing Scene, Fore-edge painting, fanned to the right. The Poetical Works of Thomas Campbell, London: Edward Moxon, 1840.

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.

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.

Fishing Scene, Fore-edge painting, fanned to the right. The Poetical Works of Thomas Campbell, London, Edward Moxon, 1840.
Fishing Scene, Fore-edge painting, fanned to the right. The Poetical Works of Thomas Campbell, London, Edward Moxon, 1840. Gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

The book block is angled and clamped while the tiny watercolor painting is made.

Foxhunting Scene, Fore-edge painting, fanned to the right, Thoughts on Hunting in a Series of Familiar Letters to a Friend, by Peter Beckford, Esq., London, Sherwood, Neely, and Jones, 1820. Gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

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.

The gilt edges hide the painting on the edge. To the casual observer, there's nothing special here...
The gilt edges hide the painting on the edge. To the casual observer, there’s nothing special here…

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.

Hunting Scene, Fore-edge painting, fanned to the right, The Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Edinburgh and London, Gall & Inglis, Gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.
Hunting Scene, Fore-edge painting, fanned to the right, The Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Edinburgh and London, Gall & Inglis. Gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

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.

Shooting Scene, Fore-edge painting, fanned to the right, The Bird, by Jules Michelet; with 210 illustrations by Giacomelli, London, T. Nelson and Sons, 1872. Gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.
Shooting Scene, Fore-edge painting, fanned to the right, The Bird, by Jules Michelet, London, T. Nelson and Sons, 1872. Gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

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!