The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts


Fore edge painting


The application of an image to the edges of the pages of a book.


Status Critically endangered
Craft category Paper
Historic area of significance Yorkshire (18th century)
Area currently practised Sussex, Devon, Leeds
Origin in the UK 17th century (1660)
Current no. of professionals (main income) 1
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
Current no. of trainees 0
Current total no. serious amateur makers
Current total no. of leisure makers
Minimum no. of craftspeople required



Fore edge painting is the craft of applying an image to the pages of a book. The page block is fanned and an image is applied to the stepped surface. If the page edges are gilded or marbled, the applied image disappears when the book is relaxed. When refanned, the painting reappears.

Earliest examples of fore edge painting are credited to the Royal binders Lewis Brothers in 1660, with a rennaissance in the second half of the eighteenth century, circa 1760-1800 with the Edwards Bindery in Halifax and London. A recent revival saw more work in the late 1900s.



Watercolour painting onto the fanned page edges of the book. The tips of the pages hide the image when the book is released (see examples here).


Local forms




Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Market issues – lack of demand for product/skills


Support organisations

Craftspeople currently known


Other information

  • Current number of trainees: There are currently no formal trainees in fore edge painting. Over 300 people have taken part in workshops in the UK and USA but none are practising.

Gillian Stewart has received an Endangered Craft Fund grant from the Heritage Crafts Association to further her skills in fore edge painting. She hopes to teach the skills as a part of her bookbinding practice.



  • Weber, Jeff. (2010). Annotated Dictionary of Fore-edge Painting Artists & Binders. The Fore-edge Paintings of Miss C. B. Currie; with a Catalogue Raisonné. Los Angeles: Weber Rare Books.
  • Weber, Carl. (1966). Fore-edge painting: a historical survey of a curious art in book decoration.