Friday, November 9, 2012

The Only Bookplate Designed By René Lalique

by Stephen J. Gertz

Found in a copy of the Kelmscott Press's The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems by William Morris (1892) from the collection of Emilie B. Grigsby (1879-1964), this is the only bookplate ever designed by René Lalique (1860-1945), the celebrated French art glass and jewelry designer.

Note her given name at lower left, so well integrated into the background foliage that it almost disappears into it.

Grigsby was a wealthy American bibliophile of "colorful reputation," and the young, comely "ward" (i.e., concubine) of the notorious robber baron, Charles Yerkes (1837-1905) who built (and bilked) the Chicago transit system and Northern and Piccadilly lines in London.

Emilie Grigsby was almost forty years younger than Yerkes but held her own,; she was sophisticated charming, and intelligent. The mansion he built at 660 Park Avenue, New York City - just a few blocks from his Fifth Avenue palace where Mrs. Yerkes lived - was a gift to Emilie, the daughter of a slave-holding father from Kentucky and a brothel madam mom from Cincinnati. Her fine library was sold in New York by Anderson and Company in 1912.

Emilie B. Grigsby.

"A most interesting catalogue of books belonging to Miss Emilie Grigsby, the ward of the late Charles T. Yerkes of Chicago, has been issued by the Anderson Auction Company, which will sell them in the week beginning Jan. 29. It is a woman's library of fine books, not subscription books, but really interesting and beautiful books and fine bindings. The sale includes long series of the William Loring Andrews books; publications of the Essex House, Kelmscott, Vale and other private presses..." (Boston Evening News, January 24, 1912).

"She has a charm one feels at once and responds to, a charm, vague, indescribable, that borders on the aesthetic, the kind that some of Chopin's music exerts over the crudest of us.

"Perhaps her appearance fosters this idea of the spiritual. Golden hair, blue eyes, fragile as a piece of Dresden china, she is as many of our famous artists have painted her. Absolute unconsciousness of her beauty, lack of affectation, simplicity of manners are hers. She listens to what is told her, and speaks when she has something to say. There is no boredom, nor yet effusiveness. She strikes easily and naturally the note so many others have attempted and failed, the note of harmony and perfect poise. No restless striving for this, nor craving for that" (Lillian Barrett, Emilie Grigsby - A Reminiscence.. New York Times, July 16, 1911).

Bookplate image courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, witrh our thanks.

Image of Grigsby courtesy of University of Illinois Archives, with our thanks.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic stuff. Not to say mindblowing.Thanks.


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