The American Influence

The period Carl J. Weber identified as the “American Blight” occurred during the latter half of the 19 th century, and refers to a period in the history of fore-edge painting when the scenes painted had nothing to do with the content of the book (Weber 125). For example, a book of poetry by Sir Walter Scott might have a scene of Fort Sumter on its fore-edge. This was done purely to sell books to American tourists. Apparently Americans preferred to buy their books abroad because there are many more examples of fore-edge paintings depicting scenes from America on books by English authors or printers than anything else. Unfortunately this period also saw the quality of the paintings go down while prices went up. It is also worth noting that books chosen for decoration tended to be unimportant volumes. British booksellers had found a successful and profitable means of unloading their overstocked and slow moving titles.

This is a beautiful example of a hidden vertical fore-edge painting. The painting depicts two golfers, whose names, Allen Robertson and Tom Morris, are actually titled in the painting itself. Notice that the subject of the painting does not reflect the subject of the text. This was common practice in the late 19 th century, usually an attempt to appeal to customers. (Scott, Walter. The Poetical Works of Sir Walter Scott . Edinburgh : Adam and Charles Black, 1869.) (From the George M. & Frances L. Gill Collection)


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