Blogathon: “Biblio-archaelogy”: Digging through Special Collections

University of Glasgow Library

 By Charlotte Edwards


Exploring Fore-Edge Painting in the Hepburn Bequest

In February, as part of my Museum Studies MSc, I began a project to investigate several books in the library’s Special Collections that carried a form of decoration about which little was known.  Here is what I discovered:

A (Very) Brief History of Fore-edge Painting

Taken literally, the term ‘fore-edge painting’ refers to any painted decoration applied to the fore-edge of the text block (i.e the edge of the pages opposite the book’s spine).

1600s: The earliest fore-edge paintings were painted straight onto the flat edge when the book was closed. These early works often indicated ownership and featured decorative motifs such as flowers, armorial crests and heraldic symbols.

1700s: The fore-edge paintings that interest us are slightly different: known as ‘disappearing’ or ‘peekaboo’ paintings, they were popularised in the mid eighteenth-century by the binders and booksellers ‘The Edwards of…

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