Paper can darken and yellow over time, but some books have text blocks that were coloured yellow, in tones ranging from straw-like to vivid, lurid, greenish, even acid. Many were printed 1530-1600 for the English market, some earlier, some later. The texts are of all kinds, but mainly biblical or devotional. The yellowing was not part of the printing process but of the binding (at least for the Sammelbände with a consistent yellow throughout all texts), and it cannot be a later alteration (at least for those in contemporary bindings). So, the books were probably yellowed at the commission of early owners.
Each yellow may have come from a different recipe and been applied in a different way. They could represent the work of a single bindery, a lesser-known but established workshop practice across a small or large area, or individual, unrelated attempts to appeal to a yellow-page-craving collecting market. Although dozens have been identified, each yellow book is effectively an outlier. It remains unclear why, for whom, how, or with what their pages were yellowed.
As yellow-ness is not normally recorded in collection catalogues, the working data is being shared publicly in hopes that others may be able to add to the list, spot patterns, or make some sense of the confusion. If you have any comments or have come across any titles that you would like to add to the list, or if you would like to be notified when there are any updates to this research, please contact Dr Elizabeth Savage at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Working list (sheet 1) and analytics (sheet 2)
Elizabeth Upper (now Savage), ‘“Yellowed” Books’, in Tudor Colour Printing (Cambridge University Library, Dec 2013–Jan 2014), https://exhibitions.lib.cam.ac.uk/tudorcolour/case/yellowed-books/.
NB: For additional details, see the discussion at Caroline Duroselle-Melish, ‘A Yellow Book’, The Collation, 7 March 2017, http://collation.folger.edu/2017/03/a-yellow-book/.
This project derives from research that was supported by the Munby Fellowship in Bibliography, Cambridge University Library.
Dr Elizabeth Savage (email@example.com)