"It's a secret to everybody": amazing fore-edge paintings at the UI Special Collections

"It’s a secret to everybody…This is one example of a fore-edge painting from a four volume set of scientific books which are divided by season.  Each has a landscape painting of the season hidden until you begin to read it and bend the pages to turn them."

On August 27th,  Colleen Theisen at the university of Iowa's Special Collections & University Archives, shared an amazing gif she made that demonstrates something called fore-edge painting on the edge of a 1837 book called Autumn by Robert Mudie. Fore-edge painting, which dates back as early as the 1650s, is a way of hiding a painting on the edge of a book so that it can only be seen when the pages are fanned out. 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.

When the folks over at Colossal realized the book Theisen shared was only one of a series about the seasons, they got in touch and she agreed to photograph the other three. Visit the site to view Theisen's gifs of SpringSummerAutumn and Winter which were donated to the University of Iowa by Charlotte Smith.