Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Man With The Bookplate Jones

One reason, of many, to collect rare books is that you will often find a prior owner’s bookplate that in its provenance and design capture art and history in a small visual medium that tells an compelling story.

We recently acquired a volume that possessed the bookplate of William Hartmann Woodin. It was designed and engraved by E. B. Bird for Tiffany & Co.

Of Tiffany & Co. nothing need be added here. The very name conjures lush visions of the decorative arts, particularly of the Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements.

Elisha Brown Bird was an extremely active graphic artist, illustrating sheet music, posters, etc. He designed the cover and endpapers for Oliver Herford’s An Alphabet of Celebrities (1899); co-illustrated Eediotic / Idiotic Etiquette: An Up to Date Manual of the Manners of Men and Women for Men and Women of Manners, and a Complete Catalogue of Social Dues and Most of the Don’ts for All Disciples of Deportment: Distilled Directly from the Raw Material (1906); The Foolish Dictionary (1904); and many more.

Bird had a particular fondness, talent and success with bookplate design. In 1904, Winfred Porter Truesdale wrote a survey and catalogue raisonné in collaboration with the artist: E.B. Bird: His Bookplates (Boston: Troutsdale Press).

And who was William Hartmann Woodin?

William Hartmann Woodin (1868-1934) was one of the foremost book collectors of his era, and a major American industrialist.

“In 1933 William H. Woodin was appointed Secretary of the Treasury by his close personal friend President Franklin D. Roosevelt at one of the most critical moments in the nation’s history. The financial system of the country had been weakened by the effects of the Depression, including increasing lack of confidence in the banking system and huge withdrawals of deposits. The crisis of 1933 saw massive bank failures, which made the situation worse. Woodin’s task was to restore public confidence in the government and to carry out Roosevelt’s New Deal policies of fiscal and monetary expansion, which deviated sharply from those of his predecessor.

“To deal with the crisis of 1933, Roosevelt created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, an independent agency that insured bank deposits and was designed to increase public confidence in the banks. Woodin devised regulations permitting banks to resume operations and took measures to prevent the hoarding of gold. He resigned after less than a year due to ill health” (U.S. Treasury website).

And so here, in this small Ex Libris, is quite a story indeed.

Bookplates have always had an avid group of collectors who go to great lengths to find material. A good place to begin exploring the world of bookplates is The Bookplate Society website. Founded in 1972, The Bookplate Society is the direct descendant of the world’s first such organization, the Ex Libris Society, 1891-1908.

The interest in collecting them seems to have lately picked up steam, to wit: A relative newcomer (as far as I can tell) to the bookplate passion is a fellow named Lew Jaffe whose ardent interest in bookplates borders on the raptuous.

Many bookplate collectors confine themselves to a particular genre or artist. I have a friend in the Bay Area who focuses his interest on erotica-themed bookplates, a genre tumescent with ripe, quite artful specimens guaranteed to arouse interest.

Jaffe, however, is catholic in his consuming passion for bookplates. He must have them all! He writes an ongoing, wildly enthusiastic and richly illustrated blog with a title that pretty much sums up his mania: Confessions of a Bookplate Junkie.

The man has a bookplate on his back.

And, you, too, once exposed to the art of the bookplate, may pick up the addiction as well. It produces euphoria. It may lead to compulsive behavior. Scoring good stuff is fun. But it won’t turn into a nightmare, is completely legal and won’t cost you your future and a fortune.

  1. Comment by Lew Jaffe 
    Dear Stephen,
    Thank you for the kind words. Since one good turn deserves another I am sending you a copy of The Ex Libris Chronicle fresh off the presses from The American Society of Bookplate Collectors and Designers.
  2. Comment by 
    And thank, you, Lew. (Note to readers: no quid pro quo here).
    If you find a bookplate that tells a particularly compelling story, let me know. I’d enjoy writing about it, if you haven’t done so already.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Subscribe to BOOKTRYST by Email