Endpapers: beautiful patterns and illustrations inside book covers

Have you ever opened up a book and discovered that the inside of the cover had a beautiful illustration, colour or pattern?

The double sheet of paper partly glued to the inside of the cover of a book is called an endpaper – the first and last sheets of paper in a book, dividing text from cover. 

Historically, endpapers were often simply blank pieces of scrap paper, parchment or vellum that were used to keep the text safe from wear and tear. They might contain a bookplate showing ownership, or some scribbles where someone had tested a newly cut pen. 

sheet of paper with illustration and text in Latin
Expositiones sive declarationes admodum necessarie ac perutiles […].S Brant, 1490. University of Vienna, Austria, CC BY-NC. 

Decorated endpapers became popular from the 18th century, inspired by paper marbling techniques originating in the Middle East and Asia.

Marbling made the endpaper more than just a practical solution in bookbinding, but a place for beauty and art. Paper can be marbled using a variety of different techniques and styles. The result is always completely unique, no two marbled papers will ever be exactly the same. 

dark red and light orange coloured marbled design
Caroli Linnaei Systema, genera, species plantarum uno volumine […].Linné, Carl von, 1840. Smithsonian Libraries, United States, Public Domain. 

Paper marbling is achieved by putting paper on top of patterened paint sitting on the surface of water.

Even though every piece of marbled paper is different, some simple patterns were very popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, acting as starting points for more intricate and unique designs.

A nonpareil pattern (nonpareil is French for ‘without equal) is one of the basic patterns in paper marbling. It is made by using a comb-like implement to pull streaks across the marbling paint.

red, blue and yellow marbling pattern
Etude & amitié. Société philomathique de Paris … 1890, Smithsonian Libraries, United States, Public Domain

The Turkish pattern, or ‘stone’ pattern, is one of the most used basic patterns in marbling. Bristles or a brush are used to sprinkle different colours of paint down on the surface of the water.

The different colours push each other away, creating a swirled, earthy look.

marbled pattern with light beige 'circles' on a dark red background
The palm tree / by S. Moody ; with illustrations by the author.1864. NCSU Libraries, United States, Public domain.

The ‘Italian pattern’ was most-likely named as it resembles the patterns found in real Italian marble. 

blue and red marbled pattern
Monumenta Vaticana historiam ecclesiasticam saeculi XVI illustrantia : Ex tabulariis sanctae sedis apostolicae secretis, Hugo Laemmer, 1861. Austrian National Library, Austria, NoC-OKLR

While printing technology advanced throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, endpapers became more lavishly decorated with different kinds of patterns and illustrations.

Marbled paper increasingly became machine-made, with other types of illustrations – such as floral or geometric patterns – began appearing on endpapers.

black and white botanical pattern
Gesammelte werke von Alexander von Humboldt. 1889, University of California Libraries, Public Domain. 
black cross-shaped pattern on a white background
The garden’s story : for pleasures and trials of an amateur gardener / by George H. ELlwanger, 1889. University of California Libraries, United States, Public Domain
leaf and plant pattern illustration on paper with a typed label
The saddle-horse : a complete guide for riding and training. Orange Judd Company, 1881. University of Pennsylvania libraries, United States, Public Domain.

Endpapers are also a good place to put maps. They can cover two full pages at once, or even folding out to show things on a larger scale.

large map showing the north pole and countries around it
Farthest north; being the record of a voyage of exploration of the ship “Fram” 1893-96, and of a fifteen months’ sleigh journey by Dr. Nansen and Lieut. Johansen, 1897, Smithsonian Libraries, United States, Public Domain

Marbling paper is an easy and fun activity to do at home, so if you feel creative you can go look up one of the many tutorials online on how to marble paper!

decorative pattern with small flowers
Art – Goût – Beauté, Feuillets de l’ élégance féminine, Juin 1929, No. 106, 9e Année, p.1 Rijksmuseum, the Netherlands, Public Domain
pattern showing birds and abstract shapes
Art – Goût – Beauté, Feuillets de l’ élégance féminine, Novembre 1928, No. 99, 9e Année, schutblad. Rijksmuseum, the Netherlands, Public Domain.

EXPLORE MORE: Browse a gallery of endpapers

With repetitive patterns, embossing and gilding, marbled paper is just one of the myriad ways to decorate endpapers today. However, generally, Books printed today make less use of endpapers.

Now and then, you’ll open up a book and be pleasantly surprised by the decoration of its endpapers. 

By Jolan Wuyts, Europeana Foundation

Feature image: Endpapers with marbling effect. In Volume 3 of ‘The naturalists’ miscellany…’ by George Shaw, 1813, Wellcome Collection, CC BY

2 thoughts on “Endpapers: beautiful patterns and illustrations inside book covers

  1. Yup, Veerle made her own marbled paper in our bathtub, many years ago. She may still have some sheets of those, somewhere.

    Nice blog , Jolan!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.