The following article was published in The Book Collector in Spring 2020, and is reproduced here to mark the fifth anniversary, this week, of setting up We Love Endpapers on Facebook (now with over 6000 members, and counting).
I can be fairly precise in pinpointing the time and place when I first fell for a piece of decorated paper. It was late 1998, at 5–8 Lower John Street, London, only a few months after I had begun working for the booksellers Bernard Quaritch. The book which turned my head was a copy of the first edition in German of Adam Smith’s seminal work, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, published in Leipzig in two octavo volumes, 1776–8. It was item 205 in Quaritch catalogue 1256, Human Sciences. We described it as ‘most attractively bound in contemporary red calf and blue decorative paper sides’, but we didn’t illustrate it. I made sure we did three years later (yes, we still had it) for catalogue 1292, German Books, where I note we had amended the description to ‘strikingly bound’, with ‘attractive patterned endpapers’. I now know that those ‘decorative paper sides’, with that deep Prussian blue, were paste paper, specifically the variety known as Herrnhuter Papiere, after the town in Upper Lusatia where the exiled Moravian Brethren began producing such papers in the last third of the eighteenth century. That paste paper would have been enough to get me hooked, but the binder had not stopped there. Open the book and there was the other paper we mentioned in our amended description: a delicate block-printed Kattunpapier (lit. ‘calico paper’, as the fashion for such papers developed from printed textiles; cf. sitspapier, ‘chintz paper’, in Dutch), the colours of which, red and blue, matched those of the outside of the book. So taken was I with it, that I decided to reproduce it on the cover of the German Books catalogue. The whole thing was wonderful, and quite unlike English bindings of the period I had seen.
Over the years since that brief encounter (I wonder where that book is now?) I have always enjoyed coming across decorated papers on books of the hand-press period, whether as wrappers, on the sides of bindings, or as endpapers. This last group elicits a particular thrill. In part because they are hidden from view: from the outside, when the book is sitting on the shelf or lying flat on a table, you just don’t know they’re there. Open it up and their existence is revealed, in all their glory. Decorated papers used as endpapers have not been exposed to light, or the sun, they are often just as bright as the day the binder pasted them in, their colours revealing the palette of the age in which they were created. They also tell us something about the book, and its owner. For that owner had a choice as to how s/he had the book bound. And choosing a decorated paper, whether marbled, block-printed, brocade, or paste paper would naturally cost more than ordinary plain paper. Often we can never know how much a binding cost. But the discovery of a decorated paper when we open a book, particularly one bound before about 1800, shows us that someone spent more money on that copy of the book than others did.
Those interested in a brief illustrated overview of the various eighteenth-century decorated papers can take a look at the ‘spotter’s guide’ I wrote for the ABAA’s New Antiquarian blog in 2018. Marbled paper is perhaps the most common, certainly in English books, and needs no introduction. There are a number of reference works on the subject, too, of which readers of The Book Collector will already be aware (see ‘Decorated paper and the art of marbling’, Autumn 1992; a second edition of Richard J. Wolfe’s Marbled Paper: its History, Techniques, and Patterns was published by Oak Knoll Press in 2018). The next most commonly seen in British books are perhaps the so-called ‘Dutch gilt’ papers. I say so-called, because the papers are not Dutch at all, but most likely imported from the Netherlands. Brocade paper, to give this type of paper its proper name (again, a paper trying to mimic luxury textiles), was manufactured in southern Germany and northern Italy, and exported across Europe and beyond. It was particularly popular as a covering for eighteenth-century English children’s books. In his bibliography, John Newbery and his Successors 1740–1814 (1973), Roscoe devotes a section of Appendix 2, on Newbery’s bindings, to ‘Binding in Dutch floral boards’, and reproduces a sample of the paper as a frontispiece to his book. Brocade papers were not the only eighteenth-century Continental papers to travel. I have seen examples of French block-printed paper (papier dominoté) as wrappers on a pamphlet from Spain, or as endpapers on a book from Denmark:
It is interesting that the British did not take to block-printed paper, and you never see it on English bindings. Which is odd, because it was not as if the British were not making this kind of paper. The V&A has examples of English papers made for covering walls, lining trunks and the like, all printed from woodblocks, but these decorated papers, for some reason, never made it onto books. The other major decorated paper, paste paper, was also a German invention. Fascinatingly, it was made in Britain, specifically at Fulneck, near Pudsey in West Yorkshire, by the émigré Sisters of the Moravian Church who settled there in 1744.
Fast-forward to 2016. The world had changed a lot since 1998, but I still enjoyed coming across decorated papers in my work. And I knew other booksellers did, too. So I decided to set up a Facebook group devoted to endpapers—We Love Endpapers—as a place where people could post pictures of decorative endpapers as and when they came across them. My initial intention was that it was a useful online place for like-minded friends to share such pictures with others, and I invited booksellers and special collections librarians to join. Soon we were several hundred strong: booksellers, librarians, collectors and, one group I hadn’t originally considered, designers, showcasing their work. Any decorative endpapers qualify, from any period. It’s over three years since I set up the group, we now have almost 4000 members [now over 6000], and it was even featured in a Guardian article [in 2019]: ‘Faced with the hideous maw that is today’s news cycle, there could be little more soothing than slipping into the esoteric world of We Love Endpapers …’. I invite you all to join.