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Sometimes plain, sometimes marbled, sometimes pictorial, sometimes patterned, endpapers form a hinge between the cover boards and the pages of a book.
Their outer leaves are pasted to the inner surface of the cover (known as the ‘pastedown’), while the inner leaves (or ‘free endpapers’) form the first and last leaves of the bound volume. Hiding the raw edges of the material that binds the book, they are functional, but can also be decorative and very collectable.
Early manuscript and printed books usually had no endpapers; the text was attached directly to the cover, sometimes leaving the opening pages of an illuminated manuscript vulnerable to damage. As printing spread, books were no longer the exclusive preserve of religious communities and wealthy collectors. And when thousands of titles were produced, purchased and handled every day, the first and last pages of the text were exposed to dirt and the risk of damage. Simple endpapers, made of paper or vellum, were introduced.
As printing spread, books were no longer the exclusive preserve of religious communities and wealthy collectors.
From the seventeenth century, endpapers became a more important, often ornamental, aspect of the binding. As with any genre of decorative arts, fashions and techniques changed through the years.
Marbled paper was popular for endpapers from the seventeenth century. The technique was first adopted in Europe in the sixteenth century, having spread from China and Japan through the Middle East. The effect is produced by floating a selection of paints in a tray of ‘sized’ liquid, which is thickened with cellulose. A sheet of paper is placed onto the surface of the liquid. When the page is lifted out of the tray, the colours remain as patterns on the surface of the paper.
From the eighteenth century, marbled papers became increasingly varied. Using combs and pins to stir up the colour, spotting the paints, and shaking the base liquid were some of the techniques used.
A style of endpapers called Dutch gilt or brocade also became popular in the eighteenth century. Different colours, including gold, were layered using stencils or metal rollers to replicate the brocades and damasks of the period. Binders also began using a letterpress or block printing technique to create printed endpapers, often with repeating patterns.
In the nineteenth century, mechanical printing made it possible to create a range of suitable papers. The earliest of these patterns, in the 1840s and 1850s, were intricate geometrical prints, often made from printers’ ornaments, or decorative motifs. In the latter half of the century, floral patterns were popular: ferns, flowers, sprigs, branches and bouquets of all sorts, printed in a single colour.
By this time, marbling was increasingly machine-made, appearing slightly shiny with gold veins for effect. Beautiful marbled papers were still produced by artisan binders, often to be used in luxury bindings, limited editions and artists’ books.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, many binders produced thematic, illustrated endpapers that were integral to the text of the book. Maps, imaginary landscapes, a parade of story characters, or a scene reflecting the theme of the book, were popular. Children’s books, like Dr Dolittle on the cover of this magazine, contain many of the most memorable and intriguing illustrated endpapers.
The Library’s catalogue records seldom reveal the existence of decorated endpapers. Sometimes, the only way to find them is to lift the cover and take a peek! They are easy to overlook. Shown here is a sample of the designs hidden beneath the covers in the collection.
Manager, Research & Discovery