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Fore-edge Painting

Rarely are books prized as objects of art; often the content of the text, or the plates accompanying the text, are regarded with higher intrinsic value than the construction of the book. However, bookbinding is an art form in itself, and elaborate bindings may garner more interest than the actual text. Such is the case with fore-edge paintings, as often they are unique embellishments to otherwise less significant, mass-produced bound books.

The Life and Times of Oliver Goldsmith by John Forster and The Percy Anecdotes by Sholto and Reuben Percy

Fore-edge paintings, watercolor scenes painted on the unbound edge of a book, were popularized in the seventeenth century by the Edwardses of Halifax, a family of English bookbinders. Some examples of fore-edge paintings are visible when the book is closed, although more elaborate examples are only visible by fanning the leaves, or spreading the pages. The paintings are created by clamping the fanned leaves in place to create a surface on which to paint. Once the scene is painted and has dried, the clamp is removed and the fore-edge is gilded.

This is part of our Take a Closer Look series. This regular feature offers a behind-the-scenes view of some of our hidden treasures in our library and what they reveal about our shared past.

Richmond from the James River, Poems of James Montgomery Enter Fullscreen More information
Richmond from the James River, Poems of James Montgomery
Many fore-edge paintings feature British pastoral scenes. Later, in the nineteenth century, watercolors depicting American people and places increased in popularity, as interest blossomed across the Atlantic. This watercolor depicts the view of Richmond from the bank of the James River. (VHS call number: Rare Books ND2370 M6)
Picture of Fortress Monroe, The Life and Times of Oliver Goldsmith Enter Fullscreen More information
Picture of Fortress Monroe, The Life and Times of Oliver Goldsmith
The watercolor painting of Fortress Monroe, located at the mouth of the James River in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, appears by fanning the leaves. This book was presented in 1856 as a prize to a student at Chatham House Academy, Ramsgate. Presumably, the fore-edge painting of "Fortress Monroe, Va. U.S.A." was painted much later. (VHS call number: Rare Books PR3493 .F73 1855)
Picture of Crawford's Washington Monument and view of the tomb of President James Monroe, Richmond, Va. Enter Fullscreen More information
Picture of Crawford's Washington Monument and view of the tomb of President James Monroe, Richmond, Va.
Each of the ten volumes of The Percy Anecdotes (a miscellaneous collection of articles that was originally published in forty-four parts) has a fore-edge painting of Virginia scenes. (The Percy Anecdotes, volume 6; VHS call number: Rare Books PN6261 P42 1820)
Richmond from the James River, Poems of James Montgomery
Richmond from the James River, Poems of Ja
Picture of Fortress Monroe, The Life and Times of Oliver Goldsmith
Picture of Fortress Monroe, The Life and T
Picture of Crawford's Washington Monument and view of the tomb of President James Monroe, Richmond, Va.
Picture of Crawford's Washington Monu

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