Bibliographic Curios–Picture Edition

Book are the magical portals where we create our own adventures without ever leaving the reading nook. Books often contain beautiful works of art, but have you ever stopped to think about the book itself as a work of art? Not just a pretty cover either, though a beautiful cover can draw you into reading a book you might not otherwise pick up. Books are unique in that they can both contain beautiful content while acting as a canvas of beautiful art as well.


Photograph of a book with a reddish brown cover and gilt edging

This elegant book has a stately cover with gorgeous gilt edges; it’s a nice, unassuming book of poetical works by William Cowper that was published in 1855. Take another look at the edging below .

Photograph of the fore edge painting of a man and woman on horseback visible

When the pages are fanned and you look at the right angle you see a painting–the book is a canvas for both written and picture art!

Photograph of a book with the fore edge painting partially visible

When you know to look for edge painting it is much easier to spot. It’s a fun way to make novels more novel, literally and figuratively.

Here’s another book, Lalla Rookh: An Oriental Romance by Thomas Moore (not Sir Saint Thomas More, though) that was published in 1829. It’s an epic poem that tells the story of Princess Lalla Rookh on her journey to meet her betrothed for the first time.

Photograph of a book with a green covering, decorative gold flourishes and gilt edging


Photograph of two men playing badminton in front of a house

If you look at the fore edge painting though, it depicts two men playing badminton in front of a house, which has nothing at all to do with the subject matter of the book.

Photograph of a page from the book Lalla Rookh with text about Roses and Syria

Here is a beautiful passage describing the roses of Syria (with an informative footnote that states Syria’s name comes from the delicate roses for which it has long been renown.)


This last book is The Princess: A Medley by Alfred Lord Tennyson, published in 1854. I love the decorative cover on the front (and the tiny details on the inside edge of the back cover).

Photograph of a book with a black cover and gold detail on the front, with gilded edges

It’s beautiful to look at even without knowing about the surprise painting.  The fore edge painting, however, shows to men playing golf with a caddy watching in the background.

Photograph of fore edge painting depicting men playing golf

This article from AbeBooks explains fore edge painting really well. If you really want to jump down the rabbit hole, there are dozens of articles and videos that explain how to paint your own book edges, too! These are only three of the dozens of fore edge painting books we have in the Special Collections Department and the pictures do not do them justice.


If you would like to see these books or any of other amazing books and objects we have here, come visit us on the 5th floor of McFarlin Library, any time Monday through Friday 8:00-4:30. We’d love to see you and show you around!

This entry was posted in artwork, literature and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *