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Another beautiful collection

Last year, Research Collections was lucky enough to acquire a collection of 52 beautiful books with fine bindings and fore-edge paintings. They were donated by Bettina Bollmann, who had joined her mother Elsbeth over several decades in assembling them. This is the most important collection of bindings to be acquired by the Library in over 200 years.

Pictured in the main image are Principal Librarian, Early Printed Books & Special Collections, Dr Lydia Ferguson  and donor, Bettina Bollmann.

The practice of painting on the flat fore-edges of books goes back many centuries but the more subtle art of creating a hidden picture which is only visible when the leaves of the book are fanned appeared in England in the middle of the 17th century.

The Bollmann Collection includes fore-edge paintings executed over more than 250 years, on books printed between 1639 and 1895, with a wide variety of subjects – landscapes, mansions, religious buildings, boats, coats of arms, and flowers.

In 2018, I wrote a blogpost about fore-edges, in which I said “Sadly, I don’t think we have any examples of [double illustration] in our collection – yet!”. I am happy to say that now we do and, not only that, also a book with all three edges painted.

Until the end of November, some of the books are on display in the Long Room in an exhibition entitled “Bound to please: the Elsbeth and Bettina Bollmann Collection of fore-edge paintings and bindings”. For conservation reasons, we cannot show the books with their fore-edges fanned so, instead, the most attractive bindings are in the cases, with prints of the paintings. There are also short videos featuring some of the books.

Much of the information in this post is taken from the online exhibition, written by Dr Lydia Ferguson, which features images of all the books, and some videos.