Bookmarking Book Art — Fore-edge Printing and Painting: Book Art and the Book Arts Revealed

Chip Kidd’s novel The Cheese Monkeys, designed as well by him, sports a printed fore-edge. When the book is closed, the fore-edge is blank.  Fanned in one direction, it shows the sentence as seen in the photo below.

Chip Kidd, The Cheese Monkeys: A Novel in Two Semesters, 2008

Chip Kidd, The Cheese Monkeys: A Novel in Two Semesters, 2008, from the Chip Kidd Archives, on display Jan. 12 through April 24, 2015, in The Eberly Family Special Collections Library, Penn State University. Reproduced with permission of the Library

Fanned in the opposite direction, the fore-edge displays another phrase: “Good Is Dead”. The printing process is well described in a 2004 video by Graphics Studio|Institute for Research in Art, prepared about the making of Ed Ruscha’s fore-edge book Me and The.

Ed Ruscha, Me and The, 2002 Allan Chasanoff Collection, Yale University Art Gallery

Ed Ruscha, Me and The, 2002
Allan Chasanoff Collection, Yale University Art Gallery

This is similar to traditional fore-edge painting.  Much of what is worth knowing about fore-edge painting can be learned from Martin Frost’s QuickTime Movie-rich website, but if you are a fan of the Folger Shakespeare Library, its holdings yield some outstanding examples under the hand of Erin Blake.   


Jeff Weber’s book Annotated Dictionary of Fore-edge Painting Artists & Binders is probably the lengthiest treatment available on the subject. Hear him discuss his work here.  Weber, who commissioned artwork from Frost, Margaret Allport (Costa) and Clare Brooksbank, has a particularly well-written article at the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers’ site.     

Phillip J. Pirages, an antiquarian bookseller, provides an enlightening and entertaining talk on fore-edge painting of the 18th century and shows a superb example of the London binders Taylor & Hessey’s work — a two-volume set of the works of Alexander Pope, bound in red morocco leather and decorated on the fore-edges with scenes of Twickenham and Windsor.   

The point of this bookmark is not merely to share a curiosity but to use that narrow, hidden curiosity as an illustration of the boundaries of book art and the book arts.        


Thanks to Ann Kronenberg for this link to a 1940s film on the topic.

Thanks to Merike van Zanten of for this link from showing what appear to be biblical scenes painted on the fore-edge of a book.

Thanks to Peter Verheyen for this link to a history of decorating book edges with examples from the Maurits Sabbe Library and other Leuven and Belgian collections.

Weber, Carl. Fore-edge painting : a historical survey of a curious art in book decoration (Irvington-on-Hudson, New York: Harvey House, 1976.).

See also 21 July 2018 article on Martin Frost in The Times.

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