The Gill Fore-Edge Painting Collections

Mr. George M. Gill generously donated his collection of 36 fore-edge paintings to Marist College in 1996 in memory of his late wife Alice Gill. In 2005 Mrs. Frances Gill donated her collection of 18 fore-edge paintings in memory of her late husband George M. Gill. The Gill Collections represent one of the pinnacles in the history of book decoration and book binding, and are the highlight of our Rare Book Collection. The collection consists of 54 volumes (44 titles) that were published between 1798 and 1909 in England, the United States, and France.

To view the catalog records of these collections please scroll to the bottom of this page.

Fore-edge Painting Defined

A fore-edge painting can refer to any decoration on the fore-edge of the leaves of a book, such as was not uncommon in the 15th and early 16th centuries, especially in Italy. Manuscripts were often laid flat on their sides in libraries for the simple reason that the books were usually large and heavy. The pages were often made of vellum, which did not fold with the neatness or compactness of paper, hence the large folio volumes of the Middle Ages. The practice of shelving them horizontally with the edge of the pages facing out offered the owner or librarian a convenient area to place a mark of ownership or the title of the volume. As paper of good quality became available this allowed bookmakers to create smaller volumes, which could be easily shelved vertically. The spine of the book became the logical place for the title to go and the fore-edge of the book lent itself to identify the owner of the book. Simple name writing developed into more elaborate decorations including: family mottoes, coats-of-arms, royal monograms, crests, etc. Sometimes there was painting on the edge and sometimes the decoration was stamped onto the edge with a hot tool.

The term is most commonly used, however, for an English technique that was quite widely practiced in the second half of the seventeenth century in London and Edinburgh. This technique was popularized in the eighteenth century primarily by the Edwards of Halifax, whereby the fore-edge of the book, very slightly fanned out and then held fast in a clamp or vise, was decorated with painted views or conversation pieces. The edges were then squared up and gilded in the ordinary way, so that the painting remained concealed (and protected) while the book was closed: fan out the edges and it reappears. (Carter, 104-105).

Carter, John. ABC for Book Collectors . New Castle , Del. : Oak Knoll Press, 1995.

  • The Gill Fore-Edge Painting Collections may be browsed by selecting the following link - Gill Fore-Edge Painting Collections

  • The Gill Fore-Edge Painting Collections may also be searched on the James A. Cannavino Library's on-line catalog. You may browse the collection by entering "fore-edge painting" under a subject search or you may search for a specific title or author by selecting the Advanced Search option. To use this option most effectively you should enter the "fore-edge painting" in the first search box and select "Subject" for the search type. You may enter any additional terms or keywords in the subsequent search boxes. This will allow you to search within the Gill Fore-Edge Painting Collections.

Revised: 2010 August 4