Collecting on the Edge: Fore-Edge Paintings

I was amazed the first time I encountered a book with fore-edge painting, a delicate and intricate little scene laid out across the edges of pages, usually visible only when the book is closed.

Fore-edge painting on Alfred Lord Tennysons In Memoriam

Fore-edge painting on Alfred Lord Tennyson's In Memoriam

This art is centuries old, and it actually appears in a variety of forms.  In some cases, the painting is only on one side, while in others, all three sides of the page edges are decorated, as is the case with this copy of the Bible.  Obviously, as with most art, the more complex works are the more valuable, and thus, collectors are especially fond of volumes with fore-edge paintings that are visible only when the pages are fanned a certain way.  Some books even have three separate paintings on the same edge – one visible when the pages are fanned slightly to the right, one when fanned to the left and a separate image when viewed directly!  Oddly enough, the images infrequently correspond to the book’s subject or genre – landscapes (like the one pictured above from a Tennyson volume) show up on works of poetry and works of science equally.  For more information, you can always pick up a copy of Carl Weber’s Fore-Edge Painting: A Historical Survey of a Curious Art in Book Decoration – also in our database!

-Hollie Davis, Senior Editor,

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