Photo Essays

The Lost Beauty of Book Endpapers

by Allison Meier on June 27, 2014

Unicorn and bird antique book pattern (1890-1930) (all images courtesy Bergen Public Library)

Unicorn and bird antique book pattern (1890–1930) (all images courtesy Bergen Public Library)

Bookbinding developed gradually, with the availability of materials and prevailing tastes dictating the details. One of the more overlooked aspects of book design was the creation of endpapers, when what was long a blank space or slice of vellum was replaced by exuberant patterns.

Norway’s Bergen Public Library has a lovely Flickr album of antique book paper patterns dating from 1890 to 1930, brought to our attention by Slate Vault. While there are plenty of geometric shapes and floral touches, there are also unique designs like a grid of unicorns and fantastic birds, as well as marbled paper.

According to the Salem Athenaeum, marbled endpapers were the first decorated ones of their kind, although by the 1930s most of the artisans were already gone and it was all done by machine. In this way the Bergen Public Library collection also represents the last stage of decorated endpapers, just before they became unnecessary thanks to the industrialization of the book-making process and the arrival of trade paperbacks. But anyone with a library of old books or who’s flipped through some vintage tomes has likely caught a view of these bookbinding details. Here are some our favorites from the Bergen Public Library Flickr collection.

Red and black pattern (1890-1930)

Red and black pattern (1890–1930)

Greenish foliage pattern (1890-1930)

Dandelion pattern (1890–1930)

Geometric red pattern (1890-1930)

Geometric red pattern (1890–1930)

Branch pattern (1890-1930)

Branch pattern (1890–1930)

Damask pattern (1890-1930)

Damask pattern (1890–1930)

Et ars labor pattern (1890-1930)

Ars et labor (art and labor) pattern (1890–1930)

Greenish blue pattern (1890–1930)

Greenish blue pattern (1890–1930)

Lattice pattern (1890-1930)

Lattice pattern (1890–1930)

Orange pattern (1890-1930)

Orange pattern (1890–1930)

Brown and red pattern (1890-1930)

Brown and red pattern (1890–1930)

Whorled pattern (1890-1930)

Whorled pattern (1890–1930)

View more antique book patterns on the Bergen Public Library’s Flickr

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  • Sandra Haynes

    Well, I went looking for paper to use for this purpose yesterday, and came up with nothing. Guess I’ll just have to design and print my own. Why did I think other wise?

  • Allison C. Meier

    Got it! I posted them as the library did.

  • Gillian

    You should check out Persephone Books ( London) They publish what they consider to be neglected classics. Each book has its own endpaper – chosen from fabric, wallpaper etc contemporary with the book – and a matching bookmark. They are mostly a great read and they all look beautiful.

  • Mia

    Glad you noticed. I did too. Quite a few of these images are upside down.

    • Allison C. Meier

      Which others? I will make a note.

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