Artists working in shabby chic, cottage style and vintage decor circles are creating charming art prints on vintage dictionary pages, sheet music and other types of rescued book pages. They use victorian era images available in the public domain as well as their own original artwork to produce these beautiful and accessible prints.
They’re limited only by their imagination – historic french alphabet letters, octopus scientific plates, cats in victorian finery and inspirational quotes can transform an aged book page into a new work of art. Although some practitioners are less deft than others, the best prints in this genre are the ones that take into consideration the beauty and patina of the fragile paper, complimenting the inherent aesthetic of the medium and producing something truly whimsical and thought provoking.
This type of artwork is relatively little-known in broader venues but they’ve been a secret of professional vintage decorators in recent years, even though amateur home decor enthusiasts are becoming more familiar with them as well. The reason for their rising popularity is that the prints are often surprisingly unconventional and fun, injecting just the right sparkle of humor in an elegant home interior. They’ve been spotted in architectural digests, fashion magazines and even on movie sets. Vintage resale shops and antique stores from across the country are beginning to partner with these artists to create distinctive styles with a local flavor; this has proven to be quite popular among their customers, generating steady sales.
The paper stock chosen usually comes from rescued or “upcycled” dictionaries from the late 1800’s or early 1900’s. Rather than see these old books destroyed due to their deteriorating condition, some artists now carefully disassemble these volumes, separating the bindings and trimming the usable pages into the raw stock they need to create their work.
These old dictionaries can still be found occasionally in antique stores but they’re becoming more prized as they’re a dwindling resource; many people have packed them away in attics, donated them or simply thrown them out as they became outdated. For the ones that do still exist, there’s nothing quite like aged pages to produce precisely the right look. Of course, no one that loves books wants to destroy an edition that’s still holding up well – that’s why finding ones that qualify for deconstruction is getting even more difficult.
Once the proper stock is obtained, creating a wonderful and personal dictionary print at home is certainly within reach of the hobbyist, although not everyone has access to (or is familiar with)graphics software like Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator, and the porous and easily marred characteristics of the aging sheets can make it difficult to achieve proper results. However, in skilled hands (and through trail and error), artists working in this medium have created their own combinations of printing method, finish, color and tone that can achieve a gorgeous final product. Most consider the yellowing patina of the pages to be a desired trait, and a few feel the occasional small rip, tear or corner crease to be acceptable defects.
Another very affordable aspect of these type of prints are that they can usually fit very well into a standard 8×10 inch mat opening on an off-the-shelf 11×14 frame, so you can avoid the hassle and expense of custom framing and display them inexpensively. For an even more vintage effect, they look great banded together in mismatched frames on your wall.
Depending on your particular style and your interior space, there’s an inexpensive dictionary page art print out there just for you, AND in a price range that’s very affordable – usually around or under ten dollars per print. One popular shop on Etsy is called WhiskerPrints, they specialize in inspirational quotes and custom tailored prints – they love their work and are happy to create special prints for their customers.
Nicely matted and framed, these lovely old pages live a dignified second life as a tasteful and interesting contrast of the old and new, offering their owners a unique conversation starter that will bring years of enjoyment.