Bradbury Fore Edge Paintings

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Fore edge paintings are among the gems of collectible books. Each one is an individual work of art. They are created by the artist bending the pages of the book in a clamp and adding a watercolour to the exposed edges of the pages. When the book is closed, this picture disappears beneath the gilded or marbled edge and remains a secret unless the collector knows how to find them. By gently bending the pages the picture is magically revealed.
The term “Bradbury” refers to their handy volumes, often only 5” inches high, that were produced by this firm from the late 19th Century. Often sold as sets in fancy boxes, these little books are the ideal size for students to learn & practice their fore edge paintings on. The craft was not taught to mainstream Art Students but as part of bookbinding courses, under the title of Edge Decoration. In the beginning of the the 20th century, in the wake of the Arts & Crafts movement, there was a burgeoning of Technical colleges and Night schools teaching people these techniques and other handicrafts.
Although Bradbury were the main publisher of these small books, the term has now also come to be apply by book dealers to similar sized editions by other publishers. These books can fetch anywhere between £50 - £200 depending on the quality of the painting.. One exceptional example sold recently on eBay just over £400. Many dream of discovering an unknown and unattributed work by a famous artist like the American born Whistler or Roger Fry of the Bloomsbury Group, both of which, like many other famous artists, have experimented with the medium.
For the most part fore edge paintings remain unsigned, although thanks to the brilliant research of scholars, like Jeff Weber, we do know the names of some. One was Miss C.B. Currie both signed and dated her work. She worked with the Riviere Bindery and Henry Sotheran and her earliest work is dated 1914. Miss Vera Dutter and Claire Wain both signed and dated their work. John T. Beer signed and applied his book-plate to his paintings from 1884 to 1900. The work of Don Noble is known through his protégée, the contemporary painter, Martin Frost.
Highly valued by book collectors many Fore Edged Paintings change hands for higher and higher prices and are eventually destined for the private libraries of the rich or hidden from view in the special collections of public libraries and universities. Still with the advent of so many collections now being featured on the internet, at least these treasures can be seen, if not handled. At least this means they will last longer and will not be damaged from to much fanning of the pages, to reveal their magical pictures.
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