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.
Sarah Laskow is a writer, reporter, and editor, based in New York City. On Twitter and Instagram, she’s @slaskow.
A lost art. Didn’t know what endbooks were till now. They were nice editions to books.
Funny how we must have come across them thousands of times, yet have paid them no attention!
I remember some endpapers that were just as fascinating as the rest of the story. 🙂
I know, right??
I miss these. It’s all about what’s on the outside cover now, and even those don’t please most of us!
I’m often reminded of your complaint about today’s publishing houses being run by accountants.
If they were, it mightn’t be quite so bad, Nick. Accountants don’t tend to chase celebrities.
Sure they do. Why else do celebrities exist but to make a certain Irish power couple rich?
Ah, but they don’t chase. The celebrities come to them. On their KNEES. ?
At least the floors are well-polished, I’m sure.
Great post. This kind of style used in older books is something that is sorely missing these days as far as I am concerned. Books these days are not the charming works of art that they used to be.
I know what you mean. As many people complain, many of today’s books seem to be published by accountants; not publishers.
So pretty. I haven’t seen this kind of beautiful endpage in print books for a long time. One of the things that I like about ebooks is the ability to add images (in color too) with very little cost. I think ebooks are going to become more and more beautiful as time goes on. 🙂
Let’s hope so. I was just complaining about my Pearseus map on Kindle 🙁
You know how I love maps! It took me a long time to get my maps working right, Nicholas, but kindle wasn’t the problem as much as my prep work. Every softward transition seemed to erode my dpi and I’d end up with a blur. I hope you solved it 🙂
It still comes up small on some Kindles. Hmph.
I love endpapers, especially when they are maps. Even better, when they fold-out too.
Real books get my vote every time!
Best wishes, Pete.
Lol – somehow, I knew you’d say that! Thanks, Pete 😀
Very cool. Didn’t realize there was a name for these. Then again, I don’t see them very often. They seem to be more common in children’s books these days. At least that’s where I’ve run into them.
I confess I’ve overlooked them far too often myself!
Can’t even remember paying attention unless they were maps. Surprised fantasy books don’t use them more often.
They’d be nice in sci-fi, too. Imagine a Death Star blueprint endpaper.
That’s just what the Rebel Alliance would want.
No need for all that Rogue One bloodbath. Just a cunning spy going, “ooh, wouldn’t that be a nice endbook design, Lord Vader?”
That was a pretty big bloodbath. Wonder if a spy could actually do that. I mean, it isn’t a Force trick, so his powers wouldn’t factor in.
No need for the Force. The spy would just count on Vader’s famous love of a pretty book.
It’s nearly as famous as his hatred of sand.