The Secret Language of Rare Books

The Secret Language of Rare Books: Fore-Edge Paintings

  • Apr 10, 2015

Does the specialized vocabulary of rare book descriptions read like a secret language to you? In this series we will unveil the meanings behind a few of the more unusual and interesting terms that can read like a secret code to the uninitiated. Today: Fore-Edge Paintings.

 

The Definition: While this term can technically apply to any book with a painting executed on the fore edge–the edges of a book on the right-hand side when laid face-up–it is really meant for the examples that are concealed until the user bends the pages at an angle, fanning the edges and revealing the image. Often a layer of gilt is added on top so one cannot observe the traces of color that hint to the presence of anything extraordinary underneath.

 

The Context: The technique is most commonly seen in English books from the late 17th century through the 19th century. The Edwards family of Halifax brought this and a number of other unusual binding styles into vogue in the 18th century, and it has seen periodic revivals ever since.

 

The Look:

Watch a video that reveals the hidden fore-edge painting on this 1854 edition of Felicia Hemans’ Poems.

1827 edition of Sacred Dramas, retellings of Old Testament stories, by Hannah More with fore-edge painting (BRB 74695)

1827 edition of Sacred Dramas, retellings of Old Testament stories, by Hannah More with fore-edge painting (BRB 74695)

Ships on the Thames. A fore-edge painting on an 1811 first edition of Hodgson's biography of Reverend Porteus. (BRB 47744)

Ships on the Thames. A fore-edge painting on an 1811 first edition of Hodgson’s biography of Reverend Porteus. (BRB 47744)

1816 edition of Beattie's poem The Minstrel, with a fore-edge painting of Aberdeen (BRB 29789)

1816 edition of Beattie’s poem The Minstrel, with a fore-edge painting of Aberdeen (BRB 29789)

A Chinese fore-edge painting executed in the 20th century (BRB 77394)

A Chinese fore-edge painting executed in the 20th century (BRB 77394)

 

Have a term in mind you’d like to see in this series? Write it in the comments below.

 

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Rebecca Romney

Rebecca Romney joined Bauman Rare Books in the fall of 2007 to 2016. In 2011 Rebecca began appearing on the History Channel’s hit TV show Pawn Stars as the rare books expert. She has contributed several posts to our blog.

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