852 RARE: The Weekly Special – Fore-Edge Painting

Fore-edge painting of Cade's Rebellion
Fore-edge painting of Cade's Rebellion

If you were to judge this book by its cover you would see an attractively bound compilation of English statutes, published in London in 1587. Impressive enough on its own . . . but turn the book over in your hands, and you will see a magnificent painting on the edges of its pages!

This may be the only example of fore-edge painting in our collection, and it is a beauty. It was painted in the late 19th century by bibliophile John T. Beer, who specialized in this art. It is a painting of Cade’s Rebellion (1450), a revolt led by Irishman Jack Cade against Henry VI of England. The Rebellion was featured in Shakespeare’s play Henry VI part 2, and even has its own Facebook page today.

There are several variations of fore-edge painting. The most common is a single fore-edge painting, such as ours, where the painting is either visible by looking at the pages straight on, or by fanning the pages in one direction. I saw a double fore-edge painting at Rare Book School a few years ago, and I’ll never forget it: when I fanned the pages one way, one painting appeared, and when I fanned them the other way, a completely different painting was made visible. Amazing! I hope to see a triple fore-edge painting someday, where three completely different paintings are visible depending upon whether you fan the pages one way, the other, or view them straight on. Meanwhile, I will continue to enjoy this view of Cade’s Rebellion, and I hope you do too.


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