Opening up the covers

January 28th, 2014 By Ruth Lightbourne

A collector’s heaven and the book as an object

Opening up the covers of any antiquarian book is always exciting as you never know what you will find inside. Quite apart from the intellectual content of the text, a book might contain beautiful illustrative material or have a special provenance. It might have been beautifully bound or have hidden paintings (fore-edge paintings have been highlighted in an earlier post). It might be the very rare edition with the typographical error on a particular page, or it may have a fragment of a hitherto unknown medieval manuscript lining the spine or the insides of the covers.

There are many possibilities and it is these possibilities that delight the collector. This post focuses on some of the decorated papers incorporated into bookbindings in the Rare Book Collection of the Alexander Turnbull Library.

Decorated papers

The term decorated paper can refer to any type of embellished paper. The decorative elements can be added either during the papermaking process (with the addition of random colours or the inclusion of flowers, grasses, seeds) or applied after manufacture to the finished product. Common types of embellishment applied after manufacture include marbling, paste, metallic effects (gilding and metallising), block-printed designs, and embossing. Certain types of decorated papers are known to have been used as endpapers and covers for books from the late 15th century onwards.

Paste papers were among the earliest and easiest to produce. One of the earliest methods was to cover a sheet of paper with coloured paste and then to draw patterns into the paste with various implements – combs, fingers, sticks. This method, using usually bright or dark pink, strong royal blue, or a drab olive paste flourished in Eastern and Central Germany during the last third of the 18th century.

Blue paste endpaper. Blue paste has been spread in lines and then swirled to form the pattern.
Example of blue paste paper. Sometimes known as Herrnhuter Paper after the Moravian community at Herrnhut in Saxony where this distinctive style of paper was made from about 1765. Ref: REng FIEL Dram 1755, v.2.

Gilded papers

The most exotic and expensive papers are the gilt or metallic papers. They have various names and are often called ‘Dutch gilt’, ‘Dutch floral’, or ‘Dutch flowered’. The term ‘Dutch’ was a particular English usage and may be either a corruption of ‘Deutsch’ or a reference to Holland, where such papers were imported into England. The name may have been derived from ‘Dutch gold’, a malleable alloy of copper and zinc which, like gold, can be beaten into leaf. The addition of a metal – usually gold in colour, but sometimes silver – is a feature of the embellishment of these papers.

These ‘Dutch’ papers were actually made in Germany and Italy from at least the beginning of the 18th century, and were printed from woodblocks or metal plates, sometimes with the addition of stencilling. There were many different designs; some based on the brocade and damask fabrics of the time, giving the form the occasional name ‘brocade papers’.

Some metallic papers, usually the earlier types, were printed on smooth, coloured paper, and others were embossed. Metallic papers are difficult to date with certainty as they were imported and exported widely, could be used long after date of manufacture, and were imitated by others as required. The maker is not always identifiable unless the printed signature is extant. The Turnbull Library has a number of early books with examples of metallic or gilt paper, one signed and several others probably dating from the early 18th century.

So many ways to gild

The only paper in the Turnbull Rare Book Collection which has retained the name of its maker is the endpaper in Raleigh’s History of the world (London, 1736). ‘Michel Reymund…’ is marked along the lower edge, the rest of the printed signature is unclear. The Reymund family (also spelt Reimund) were active papermakers in both Augsburg and Nuremberg during the 18th century. The green and gold ground of this paper has been decorated with an all-over floral design, randomly stencilled with orange, purple, pink, and blue/green.

Gilt paper with an intricate floral pattern, coloured in blots of yellow, orange, green, and brown.
Gilt paper, made by Michel Reymund, possibly in either Augsburg or Nuremberg. Ref: fREng RALE Hist 1736.

A similar flowered example where the paper has retained its embossed texture probably because it has not been pressed flat inside a book, is the cover for Iournael vande Nassausche vloot (Amsterdam, 1629). This cover is not original to the book, but was added in the 19th century following a disbinding. An earlier sewing is visible along the spine edge and includes fragments of a blue and red 19th century marbled paper. A pink paste paper slipcase dating from the 19th century has helped to preserve the bright colours of the flowered paper. This flowered variety of Dutch paper was commonly used as a cover on children’s books and music scores, but in both these instances exposure to light and much handling often means that the colours have lost their brightness.

Colourful gilt endpaper, showing flowers, bunches of grapes, and leaves.
Gilt embossed paper from Iournael vande Nassausche vloot. Ref: RDut L’HE Iovr 1626.

The white paper below spangled with six-pointed gold stars and small circles enclosing tiny dots is the work of Joseph Friedrich Leopold (1668-1727), a paper maker active in Augsburg in the early 18th century. Although the Turnbull paper is unsigned, the same pattern features in Tanya Schmoller’s book on decorated papers To brighten things up (2008), p.18, where it is attributed to Leopold.

Endpaper with a regular gilt simple star and dot pattern
Gilt endpapers printed by Joseph Friedrich Leopold, Augsburg, ca 1700. Ref: RLat TROG Just 1640.

A contemporary bookbinding with an identifiable binder is a great help in dating endpapers. Joseph Gander’s Glory of Her Sacred Majesty Queen Anne (London, 1703), was given its first binding by the ‘Geometrical Compartment Binder’ around the time of publication. This binder, who flourished in London during the first two decades of the 18th century, bound at least four other copies of Gander’s work; all with very similar cover designs and endpapers; thus the binding and therefore the endpapers can be dated with some certainty. The unsigned paper in the Turnbull copy bears similarities to other Augsburg papers made at the beginning of the 18th century.

Endpaper with abstract curving vine and flower pattern.
English binding with endpapers probably produced in Augsburg at the beginning of the 18th century. Ref: REng GAND Glory 1703.

Even without a named binder, the style of an unaltered bookbinding can provide dating evidence. Both Virgil’s Works (Amsterdam, 1679) and the Complete history of England, (London, 1706) are bound in red goatskin with gold-tooled concentric frames and additional ornamentation, a style popular in England from the late 17th century and early 18th century. The endpapers in the Virgil have a red paste paper ground with gilt and stencilled floral overlay, and those in the Complete history of England have a red and gold check design.

Gilt floral and leaf patter on stark black and red.
Early 18th century gilt endpapers on a red paste paper ground in Virgil’s Works (1679). Ref: RLat VIRG Opera 1679.
Endpaper with finely checked red and gold pattern.
Early 18th-century red and gold check endpapers in Complete history of England (1706). Ref: fREng COMP 1706.

The beaten silver binding on Göbel, Jesum liebender (Nuremberg, 1692) was created in Ulm around 1700, possibly by Johann Adam Kienlin (1661-1740). Ulm is geographically close to the paper making centre of Augsburg, so this blue/red gilt endpaper probably came from there.

Gilt, blue, and red endpaper on a silver-bound book.
Gilt endpapers from Jesum liebender, early 18th century. Ref: RGer GOBEL Jesum 1692.

Gilt in the modern world

Gilt papers are still made today and the two final examples, both from the 20th century, exhibit very contrasting artistic approaches: one celebrating the highly-ornamented papers of the past, and the other looking towards the future with its abstract designs based on tribal art.

The North American Bird & Bull Press designed and printed their gilt paste paper for the cover of The Private Press-man’s Tale (Newtown, Pa, 1990), a book focusing on the history of paper and papermaking. The design was adapted from an extant 1509 fragment of the earliest-known wallpaper discovered at Christ’s College in Cambridge, England.

Intricately patterned endpaper, showing the title of the book, 'The private press-man's tale'.
Twentieth-century gilt paper created by the Bird & Bull Press for the cover of a book. Ref: qRPr BIRD MORR 1990.

New Zealand-born artist, film-maker, and writer, Len Lye (1901-1980) designed this abstract gilt cover for his book No trouble (Majorca: Seizin Press, 1930). Lye was a friend of the founders of the Seizin Press, Robert Graves and Laura Riding, and he became their principal artist. His eye-catching covers combined with the meticulous hand printing of Riding and Graves, gave the Seizin books their distinctive house style.

Endpaper with an abstract design based on tribal art.
Gilt cover designed by Len Lye for his book No trouble, Seizin Press, 1930. Ref: qRPr SEIZ LYE 1930.

Two sides of a coin

One of the attractions of filling your shelves with physical books is the look of the artefact: antique leather bindings with their sparkling gold-tooled spines, rows of publishers’ cloth bindings in multifarious colours, or even just modern paperbacks with different styles of typography on their titled spines. (A shelf of e-readers is interesting in its own way, but not quite the same.) For readers of past ages and indeed for collectors of antique books today, taking a book off the shelf and finding shining gold on the text edges, or upon opening up the covers to discover fabulous marbled endpapers, intricately gold tooled turnins, or gilded endpapers, was and is all part of the joy of reading and ownership.

Books were beautified to show they were valued, and one of the delights of working with a rare book collection is finding these often hidden aspects. While nothing will ever replace the original, digitisation – whether as ebooks or in a post such as this – allows these often unique aspects to reach a wider audience. There has been much angst and discussion over the future of the physical book, but both electronic technologies and the physical book have different things to offer, and one does not replace the other.

Further reading

Printed resources

Albert Haemmerle, Buntpapier (Munchen: Callwey, 1977)

Rosamond B. Loring, Decorated book papers, 4th edition (Cambridge: Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, 2007)

Tanya Schmoller, To brighten things up: The Schmoller collection of decorated papers (Manchester: Manchester Metropolitan University, 2008)

Online resources

Mirjam M. Foot, ‘The Olga Hirsch collection of decorated papers’ (pdf, 2.2MB)

Decorated papers at the National Library of the Netherlands:

  • Decorated paper, a web exhibition
  • 18th century brocade paper
  • Brocade paper by Paul Reymund
  • Decorated papers at the Folger Shakespeare Library

Decorated papers at the University of Washington Library

Database of decorated papers hosted by the University of Washington Library

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Marama Warren
5 August 2015 11:39am

I am a NZ book artist living in Australia and it's wonderful to have the opportunity to see these papers online! Many thanks Ruth. Now I will have a look at the fore edge paintings you mention.