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The technique of painting a watercolor picture on the fanned edges of a volume dates back to the reign of Henry VIII, in the early 1500's.  The English monarch received such a decorated book early in his reign.  However, this art form really flourished in the Victorian Age of the mid-1800's, when the ornate decoration of leather-bound volumes left no surface of the book unadorned, except the gold-leafed edges of the pages.

The subject matter of these fore-edge paintings ran the gamut, from portraits to landscapes to sporting activities.  Whenever possible, the picture related to the subject of the book.  For example, a leatherbound book of Robert Burns' poetry might be embellished with a Scottish landscape or a view of Edinburgh Castle.  A book with an Italian theme might bear a view of a Roman aqueduct or the portrait of a famous Italian.

We are pleased to offer several fore-edge-painted books, with a variety of scenes painted thereon.  It is not always possible to determine the age of these paintings, since even modern-day artists select early 19th Century volumes to decorate.
1. On an ornately bound 1850 volume of "The Poetical Works of Sir Walter Scott" is a dramatic Art Deco-like painting of the Lady of the Lake, one of Scott's most popular heroines. This octavo volume (10" x 6") of 823 pages is bound in full burgundy morocco with gilt titles and elaborate decoration to the spine and boards. Internally very clean and in fine condition, the volume shows very slight wear on the boards. There is a book plate on the free front end paper identifying a Mrs. Fenwick. The volume was published by Robert Cadell, Edinburgh.


2. This handsomely bound edition of "The Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow", published by Routledge & Sons, London, 1887, is beautifully decorated with a view of a busy English harbor, showing galleons at anchor. The volume measures 8" x 6", bound in contemporary full red morocco, gilt lettered and ruled spine, gilt rule decoration to boards, marbled end papers, all edges gilt. In all a fine volume showing little wear.


3. This small 12mo (5" x 3") volume of "Longfellow's Poetical Works" was published by Routledge & Co., London, 1853. The renowned contemporary fore-edge painter, Martin Frost, has painted a choice view of the New York City Crystal Palace, built for the World's Fair of 1853. Condition of the volume is very good with some wear to the spine and corners.


4. On a heavily gold-embossed red morocco volume of "The Contributions of Q. Q." by Jane Taylor, published by Jackson & Walford, London, 1840 is a delightful view of the Tower of London. The volume measures 6" x 4" and is tight in its binding. All edges are gilt.


5. In an austerely decorated volume of "Self-Help" by Samuel Smiles, published by John Murray, London, 1897, the artist has given us an impressive panorama of Rome. The fine calf binding is by John Bumpus. The volume, measuring 7" x 4", is clean, tight and all edges are gilt.


6. On a blue calf bound volume of "View of the State of Europe During the Middle Ages" by H. Hallam, London, 1869, the artist has painted a charming group of medieval peasants dancing, much in the spirit of the artist Breughel. The spine is divided into six compartments, heavy with gold embossed floral designs plus the title embossed on red calf. The volume is tight in its binding, some pages are lightly foxed in the clear margins. The overall condition of the book is very good.


Book Press

For the temporary display of your fore-edge painted book, we have available an ingenious wooden book press.  Designed by a Maine boatbuilder, the press consists of two carved and varnished pieces of wood (mahogany, cherry and walnut are available).  The top wooden strip is curved on the underside to prevent any damage to the volume's endpaper.  The two wooden pieces are connected by brass bolts and wingnuts.  The size of the volume determines the distance allowed between the two bolts.  Normally selling for two or three times our price, we are able to offer our book press for $75, plus $5.50 domestic postage and handling.

To ask questions or to order, click here.