Hidden Book Painting: Were They a Message from the Past?

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mystery 7No one knows if “fore-edge book painting,” which are illustrations hidden on the edges of the pages of old books are cryptic messages to people of the future or just a way for the Barnes & Nobles of the 1500’s to move product.. I vaguely remember seeing these in my church as a kid and completely forgot about them since. They are true works of art and of course a dying or maybe even dead one. Gone are the days of hand printing of course – but check out something else they used to do with books.. Hat tip – The Meta Picture.

Try doing this with a Kindle:

It’s very possible that one of your battered old books contains an amazing secret called a “fore-edge painting,” which is an illustration that is hidden on the edge of the pages of the book. The technique allegedly dates back to the 1650s.

You can see the painting by bending together the pages of the book, just so you can see a small piece of each page.

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Autumn by Robert Mudie / Special Collections & University Archives at the University of Iowa

cool-gif-books-hidden-messages-images
Autumn by Robert Mudie / Special Collections & University Archives at the University of Iowa

So much time and dedication was put into this, the results speak for themselves.

cool-books-hidden-messages-paper
Winter by Robert Mudie / Special Collections & University Archives at the University of Iowa

cool-gif-books-hidden-messages-paper
Winter by Robert Mudie / Special Collections & University Archives at the University of Iowa

There are even books that have double fore-edge paintings, where a different image can be seen by flipping the book over and fanning the pages in the opposite direction.

cool-books-hidden-messages-mountains
Spring by Robert Mudie / Special Collections & University Archives at the University of Iowa

cool-gif-books-hidden-messages-mountains
Spring by Robert Mudie / Special Collections & University Archives at the University of Iowa

No matter why people originally painted the edge of their books, now these tiny works of art are being sold for hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of dollars.

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Summer by Robert Mudie / Special Collections & University Archives at the University of Iowa

cool-gif-books-hidden-messages-flowers
Summer by Robert Mudie / Special Collections & University Archives at the University of Iowa

The images were made by Colleen Theisen who helps with outreach and instruction at the Special Collections & University Archives at the University of Iowa. Check the University of Iowa’s special collections Tumblr since they’ll probably find even cooler illustrations from the archives.
Here’s one of the best illustrations made using the same technique. A well-placed easter egg no doubt.

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Legend has it these pieces of art were originally conceived as a method to ensure that books were not tampered with and pages were not torn out. If an accountant were to adulterate a ledger in order to steal money by removing a page or pages, the picture would be altered and the heist would be found. The art was in fact functional and a part of the business’ security system!

Or maybe it was just a beautiful thing! It is to me. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to reading a book on a computer, although I do get my news from JoeForAmerica!

 

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