In the endless eBook vs. print debate, one aspect is rarely mentioned: the art of endbooks. And yet, as Sarah Laskow—my favorite Atlas Obscura blogger—points out, these can deliver a small jolt of wonder that perfectly complements a lovely book. An over-eager reader can breeze by even the most striking endbooks, yet they’re an art form with a history all their own.
An ENDuring Hostory
For centuries, designers have taken the formal necessity of joining a book’s pages to its cover and turned it into an opportunity for creativity. When a book is made, one side of an endpaper (sometimes also called an endpage or endleaf) is pasted into the inside of the book’s cover; the other side is the first page of the book. Originally, they were made of white paper, sometimes scrap leftover from other uses, or of more sturdy vellum, a thin parchment made of animal skin. But in the 18th century, after techniques of marbling had come to Europe from Turkey and Iran, European bookmakers started decorating them with French curls, Dutch combed patterns, classic Turkish stone motifs, and a swirling varieties of other patterns.
When block printing became possible in the 19th century and bookbinding was mechanized in the 1830s, the style of decorative endpapers changed. Now these pages were covered in wallpaper-like, repetitive patterns, often made from printers’ ornaments. Those images developed into softer, more ornate patterns of flowers, ferns, and other natural themes.
A Creative Approach
It was only toward the end of the 19th century that endpapers started to be illustrated with images that teased at or complemented a book’s subject. Around the early 20th century, children’s books started carrying illustrated endpapers as well, and today they contain some of the most vivid and creative endpaper examples.
Tucked inside, endpapers can also be bolder than a book’s outside. They aren’t thrust into the limelight like the cover and spine, and therefore can push the boundaries more.
Sometimes limited run editions of a book will have hand-painted endpapers; some rare books are snapped up primarily because of endpapers that illustrate a book’s theme.
Among the more creative uses of endpaper space might be used the printing of a map of the place where a book takes place.
Endpapers can contribute to telling a story even if they’re not illustrated: a red endpaper at the front of a book might communicate the heat of the sun, and a blue endpaper at the back, the cooling rain that ended the drought. And if the endpaper can include an image, the creative possibilities are as varied as books themselves, as this collection shows.
You can see more creative examples of endpapers in Sarah’s original post on Atlas Obscura.