IN putting forth this little book it is not my intention to furnish complete lists of the works of different engravers, lists of the book-plates of any given period or nationality, or indeed any kind of a reference book for the collector.
My purpose is merely to set down in somewhat desultory and rambling fashion certain facts and incidents in history and biography which are associated with the users of some book-plates of particular interest, and to show by such means in what the charm of the book-plate consists. In addition to the rich stores of historical and biographical literature which the noteworthy book-plates inspire one to delve in, there are interesting features which the student of genealogy and the lover of heraldry will recognize. These, as pertaining rather to the scientific and technical side of the subject, I leave untouched in these pages, as the investigation and publication of those branches belong to the specialist.
In the preparation of these remarks my own collection has been principally drawn upon and has furnished the greater part of my material, while in the published works of other writers upon this subject I have found both confirmation of many of my own theories and suggestions which have led to further research.
C. D. A.
HARTFORD, October, 1896.
GERMANY, the fatherland of the art of printing from movable type, and of the industry of wood-cutting for making impressions in ink on paper, is likewise the home-land of the book-plate.
The earliest dated wood-cut of accepted authenticity is the well-known " St. Christopher of 1423," which was discovered in the Carthusian monastery of Buxheim in Suabia; this rough and primitive piece of wood-cutting was probably the work of one of the monks, undoubtedly familiar with the use of the pen in transcribing, and of the use of colors in illuminating. It so happens that the plate which until recently has held the honor of being the earliest book-plate known, was also found in this same monastery. This plate, which pictures an angel with outspread wings, carrying a shield in his hands, upon the field of which is depicted an ox with a ring passed through its nose, was pasted into either a book or a manuscript given to the monastery by Hildebrande Brandenburg (aus Biberach), and the date of it is probably past the middle of the fifteenth century. An earlier and much uglier plate both in design and execution ? the picture, possibly heraldic, being of a bristly hedge-hog carrying a flower in his mouth and trampling upon fallen leaves ? has been brought to light, however, still doing duty upon the cover of an old Latin vocabulary. One other example is also known which belongs to this century; and as it too is associated with the same Carthusian monastery, we are led to conjecture that the monks who in the privacy of their cells, or within the quiet cloister, where the muttering brothers as they passed could stop and watch them, practised the new art, were the first to devise and employ a pictorial label to indicate the ownership of books. These designs are of course cut in wood; the heavy black lines, clumsy designing, and utter freedom from artistic finish, perspective, or chiaro-oscuro effects, so familiar to all who examine old prints, are exemplified in these plates. Several of these are printed on the reverse side of pages from some block-book of an earlier date.
Without meaning to devote any time here to a discussion of the probable origin of the book-plate, we may call to mind, in passing, the activity which this century saw in the manufacture of prints from wood-cuts; on single sheets, maps, and pictures of saints; the block-book with its archaic pictures, and the work of the Kartenmaler as well as that of the Formschneider. The cities along the Rhine were full of artisans, both among the clergy and the laity, who were clever at this kind of work, and the number of wood-workers in Italy and France was also very large. The introduction of printing from movable type seemed at first to aim a severe blow at the industries of the various guilds, so widely supported, and the new art was regarded with the greatest jealousy. At Augsburg the feeling amounted to open and positive antagonism.
Could it be that in casting about for a new use for the old art, that the book-plate was hit upon as a promising subject ?
Albert Durer designed and very possibly engraved book-plates. For his friend Wilibald Pirckheimer, the Nuremburg jurist, whose big, bulbous face is familiar to all, he made an heraldic plate, now of great interest and some rarity; indeed, Durer's portrait of the great book-collector is sometimes found used as a book-plate.
Among the much-prized examples of early German plates are those by Holbein, Hans Sebald Beham, Jost Amman, Lucas Cranach, Johann Troschel, Wolfgang Kilian of Augsburg, Virgil Solis, and Hans Siebmacher, artists all, whose work is of interest not only to the book-plate collector, but to all interested in the history of engraving.
Indeed, one of the delights of the humble book-plate collector is to point out to his more ambitious brother, the collector of prints, that these old masters whose works he prizes so highly did not despise the book-plate, trifle though it be, but condescended to bestow labor and time and to use their talents in its designing and engraving. Durer, who could celebrate the triumphs of Maximilian in a series of blocks which made a complete picture some seven feet by one and one-half, did not disdain to design a little print to indicate the ownership of a book.
I do not intimate that the old book-plates were insignificant in size; far from it. Those old tomes, bound in sole leather, sided with stout boards, and clasped and chained with iron, demanded an ample label to set forth with proper dignity the fact of ownership. Books were few, valuable, and often very large. Thus it happens that one old book-collector had some twenty different sizes of his plate, to satisfy his critical eye, as he carefully regarded the width of the margins while pasting in the plates, ? and this, too, in an age that knew nothing of process-reproduction and when each separate plate had to be engraved by hand. Place a plate four inches by two in a quarto ? By no means ! Cover the whole side of a dainty 12mo with a plate of equal size? Perish the thought! A special plate for each sized book!
All these early book-plate designs are heraldic. The family coat-of-arms was the distinguishing mark used to identify the belongings of the great families. In those old days, when libraries were kept intact as they passed from generation to generation, the heraldic emblem was the natural and fitting label with which to mark the books. Beginning with the simple shield of arms with its legitimate supporters, the designs gradually extended to the placing of the shield within an ornamental border. This border grew in elaborate detail until it became heavy and over-wrought. Too many figures were introduced, the ornamentation was superabundant, and not always in good taste. At length, as time went on, the heraldry was forced into a subordinate position, or wholly disappeared. Allegory came in to take its place; the gods and goddesses of Greece and Rome, as well as the heroes of the Nibelungenlied, were represented on German book-plates : the armed Minerva is very frequently met with as well as Thor and the dwarfs.
Finally, the pursuits, occupations, and pleasures of the owners came to be considered a proper feature of book-plate designing, and it is the development of this idea that brings us to the artistic examples of the present day, which in Germany are principally made by Joseph Sattler and Ad. M. Hildebrandt.
As the direction of the strong wind is indicated by the passing of the insignificant bit of straw, so in these "unconsidered trifles" book-plates, one may easily note the differences in the characters of the Northern and Southern inhabitants of Europe. The sturdy, muscular, active Teuton, practical and little given to taking his ease, used a cheap paper label, rough, frank, and sufficient, in his books; it was in him to cultivate, not the arts that please, but the forces that move: his book-plate was like him. The delicate Southron, fanned by warm breezes, falls to making music, to devising the elegancies of life, the things that please and are a delight to the eye, the ear, and the palate. His book-plate, when he adopted the fashion, partook of his nature; but before he had the book-plate he had something far more elegant, expensive, and satisfactory, - the beautiful binding with its tooling in gold, and its intricate inlay of colored moroccos. We know that in Germany the book-plate began to be used towards the close of the fifteenth century, while in France we find it very nearly a century later that the first plate of that country has a date,? 1574-Very probably this is not the first book-plate used in France, but it is somewhat difficult to identify as positive book-plates many of the earlier armorial prints. Very few examples are known which can confidently be assigned to a date previous to 1650. Such as were in use, were, nearly without exception, heraldic in character and so sufficient was the coat-of-arms as a means of identification that not over one-half of these have a name engraved upon them. These few plates are of great rarity and interest. Among the most prized are those of Emeric Bigot, the eminent bibliophile who collected some forty thousand volumes, and Alexander Petau, in whose library were many splendid manuscripts which at his death were purchased by Christina of Sweden and by her bequeathed to the Vatican. But not until the opening of the eighteenth century do French bookplates become numerous, or take on the diverting fancies and show the excellence of execution or delicacy of invention and detail which make them so charming. Up to 1790 when the First Republic suppressed all the existing titles and abolished armorial bearings, the heraldry is fairly correct and very commonly used upon the book-plates preserved to us.
A large plate of folio size engraved by Audran was used by Louis XV.: the royal crown, trophies, and the double L in monogram on a shield are the prominent features. Madame Victoire de France (Louis' daughter) and the Chateau de la Bastille had book-plates bearing the French arms, Azure, three fleurs-de-lys, orgeant. In this century books began to multiply, elegant bindings grew rarer, and eminent artists gave attention to the designing of book-plates : even Boucher engraved a few, of which a single signed specimen is now known. Court beauties read, or at least owned, books. Diane de Poitiers had many books beautifully bound by Le Faucheux, and on them was stamped her monogram, intertwined with that of her royal lover, Henri II., and in the design was the crescent of the fair goddess Diana. Scarron's widow, the Marquise de Maintenon, formed a valuable library which contained many hundred volumes stamped with her arms. The books of the Marquise de Pompadour were stamped with her arms, in addition to which she had a book-plate. Last, and least in many respects came Louis XV.'s last favorite, the Comptesse du Barry who survived royalty and died on the scaffold. Scarcely able to read or to spell, she owned beautifully bound books of a sort calculated to dissipate the ennui and to engage the mind of the debauched old monarch : she too, had a pretty book-plate. It is interesting to note that when the Republic came in and the old nobility was shelved, that even the arms on so trivial a piece of property as a bookplate were in many instances pasted over with hastily made designs in which the coronet gave way to the cap of liberty and the old titles were succeeded by the plain word Citoyen.
Napoleon made many changes in the heraldry of France and among the most interesting book-plates of his time are those of his brother Lucien, whom he made Prince de Canino; and that of Marechal Suchet, the hero of many battles and, in the opinion of his chief, his second bravest officer. The Emperor himself used no book-plate, but the books in the National Library were stamped with his arms ; and in like manner were the books of Josephine marked. From the downfall of the "man of fate " to the middle of the present century we find nothing interesting in the book-plates of France; then a renascence set in, and with heraldry a secondary consideration, we find the owners of plates adapting their designs to the expression of their individual tastes: statesmen, artists, scientists, authors, began to mark their books in this way. Gambetta, Victor Hugo, Theophile Gautier, Prosper-Merimee, Charles Monselet, the brothers de Goncourt, and Octave Uzanne are among the prominent men whose plates are valued by collectors.
Of the other European countries a word only is necessary. The earliest dated plate of Sweden bears the figures 1575; Switzerland follows, with one in 1607; and Italy has one dated 1623. All these countries have large numbers of book-plates, both old and recent, to help fill the collector's cases; and although in form and appearance the examples of country very greatly resemble those of the one others, there are differences controlled by national characteristics and the height attained by art in each country which assist the practised eye to judge accurately of the nationality of a specimen.
Crossing now to England we find ourselves in the country in which the book-plate has been most widely used, which has the greatest number of interesting examples and in which the design reflects more of the spirit of the times possibly than in any other; here too, unless America be admitted to have achieved the distinction, the book-plate had reached its highest art.
In a folio volume once the property of Cardinal Wolsey and afterward belonging to his royal master, we can still see the gorgeous ecclesiastical book-plate done in colors, of its first owner. This is supposed to have been made about 1520, and it is the earliest English plate thus far found. But two others are known which belong to this century: one by the name of Tresham whose owner was made a knight by Queen Elizabeth and whose son was connected with the Powder Plot; and the other, of Sir Nicholas Bacon, known as " the father of his country and of Sir Francis Bacon"
The earliest mention of the book-plate in English literature is in the compendious diary of the gossipy Pepys. Under date of July 16, 1688, he mentions spending an hour at the plate-maker's planning the little plate for his books. He, one remembers, really loved his books and used to overhaul them, re-number and weed them out, once a year; and into this bothersome but unquestioned service the whole family was impressed; the job was put through in a hurry, and as to despatch and neatness was compared with the record of the previous year, and a new note was made in the diary. Pepys had several book-plates. We find that in most of his books now preserved in Magdalene College Library, Cambridge, he used two kinds, one at each end, - his magnificent portrait plate on the front cover and the official Navy-yard plate at the tail. He had at first an armorial plate, but his love of personal display led him to make use of his portrait as a book-plate: in this, engraved in two sizes by Robert White, we see the vain old babbler arrayed in his much-loved finery, - velvet, lace, and imposing wig ! Possibly the very wig he bought in the Plague Year because it was so cheap for so fine a one, and which he was afraid to wear for a long time thereafter, fearing that the maker might have cut the hair from the head of a victim of the dread disease !
But we cannot linger to mention individual examples of particular interest. It is not until the beginning of the eighteenth century that the plates really begin to thicken; but from 1725 up to the present day, the output from engravers, good, bad, and indifferent, steadily grows. In picking up an old book, and noticing its quaint old heraldic book-plate, one would naturally think of its possibilities for amusement, instruction, and absorbing interest. Little would one think that hundreds of persons, ladies as well as gentlemen among the number, in all parts of the world, are taking a great interest in the collection and classification of these bits of engraving; but so it is. An enormous amount of the time and money which the collecting spirit demands of its victims is now devoted to this pursuit. The very first collector of book-plates as book-plates ? for they must have strayed into the collections of prints before this time - was a lady, - a Miss Jenkins of Bath, England, who in 1820 was forming the little group which ultimately became the nucleus of the mammoth collection of over one hundred thousand specimens which Dr. Joseph Jackson Howard now owns. From this time on, the book-plate was regarded as of some interest by various antiquarians and heraldic students.
At length, in the fulness of time, in the year 1880, the information that had gradually been gathered was assembled and put into book-form by the Hon. J. Leicester Warren (the late Lord de Tabley), a scholar and poet of high reputation. This book remains to this day absolutely the best work on the subject, although scores of writers have followed the path he blazed. In this book the reader was shown how to classify his plates intelligently, was informed of the literary, historical, biographical, and artistic material which clustered round them, and was furnished with descriptions of the different styles and illustrations of them, that he might be able to appreciate and understand the charm of the book-plate to the genuine collector. These were new ideas, for hitherto only the heraldry or the engraver had been of interest to any one.
To Lord de Tabley also is due the nomenclature universally adopted by which we distinguish the styles. The great body of English plates display armorial bearings, and while the plain armorial plate unadorned and bare continues in unbroken sequence from the earliest day up to the present, the plates with more artistic pretensions have followed certain vogues which may be described and chronologically placed with sufficient accuracy. The plates, then, which were in use from about 1700 to about 1745, and which may easily be recognized as having many features in common, are called Jacobean: this name is given them because they came into use during the reign of the last James. In these plates the shield of arms is set in the centre of a stiff and formal frame, which often resembles wood-carving. Heavy garlands of flowers, bunches of fruit, stiff and conventional arrangements of leaves and blossoms, faces of animals, term-figures, and quite an assortment of architectural and allegorical embellishments, were superimposed upon the frame. Latticed or diapered backgrounds were common, and a scallop shell or a grinning, grotesque face was often placed at the bottom as a finishing touch. The two sides of the frame exactly coincided, and the whole effect of the style was massive, severe, and classical. This style was at its height about 1730.
About the middle of the century the famous T. Chippendale introduced a certain airy and graceful manner of designing furniture and upholstery. The designers of book-plates as well as the artisans in other lines at once made use of its principles in their line of work; and as the style of the book-plate was greatly modified by this new conception, and became so faithful a reproduction of the spirit of Chippendale's work, such plates came to bear his name as their distinctive title. At once the stiffness and conventionality of the Jacobean style disappeared : in the new style the two sides of the shield were seldom symmetrical; the shield of arms was enclosed within an escutcheon of graceful design not unlike the human ear in general outline, and the surrounding decoration is full of pretty and dainty touches, varying of course according to the ability of the engraver. Lord de Tabley says that the mark and stamp of the Chippendale book-plate is its border or frilling of open shell-work, set close up to the outer edge of the escutcheon. The plates in this style are very taking. One likes them at a glance; whereas the Jacobean needs acquaintance to be fully understood and appreciated. Closely succeeding the Chippendale, and indeed coming into use before it went out, is the style going by the name of Ribbon and Wreath or Festoon. As the name indicates, these plates depend upon wreaths (mostly of roses, sprays of holly or of palm) and floating ribbons for their simple but pleasing decoration.
More pleasing perhaps to the general observer are the plates of a pictorial or allegorical character: the library interiors showing the student surrounded by his long rows of books; the portrait plates, which give us a chance to see the looks of the book-owner; or the glimpses into the abode of the gods, with many an old acquaintance bringing knowledge to man, or sitting upon the clouds in superintendence of the actions of those below; and those which, by their use of differing accessories, indicate the angler, the hunter, the book-lover, the specialist in one branch or another of learning, art, or amusement: indeed, as we escape from the load Dame Heraldry lays upon the designer, the greater variety and charm of the designs at once impresses one.
In looking over the field to pick out a few plates to mention, one is embarrassed by the great number really worthy of attention, but it will probably suffice to give in alphabetical order the names of some of the celebrated Englishmen who use or have used book-plates. Such a list of names gives a good idea of the kind of people likely to use with appreciation such a mark of ownership: Richard Bentley, Walter Besant, John Brand, Henry Thomas Buckle, Richard Burton, Thomas Carlyle, Charles Cowden Clarke, Lord Chesterfield, Thomas Frognall Dibdin, Charles Dickens, Benjamin Disraeli, Richard Lovell Edgworth, Forster, the biographer of D ickens, Garrick, Edmund Gosse (who objects to the exchange of plates, and it must be acknowledged with much reason; for why, after all, should a man give away copies of that which he uses for the purpose of designating his own private property ?), Gibbon, historian of Rome, Gladstone, Harley, founder of the Society which bears his name, Ireland, Henry Irving, Andrew Lumisden, Mahoney ("Father Prout"), Matthews the wit, Mitford, Priestley, Southey the poet, Lord Tennyson, Anthony Trollope, Tupper, Horace Walpole, Wilberforce, Edmund Yates; and not by any means least in this array, the following: Lady Oxford, friend of Walpole, the Hon. Mrs. Darner, also friend of Walpole (whose plate, by the way, was designed by Agnes Berry), Princess Sophia, Duchess of Richmond, Lady Blessington, Duchess of Beaufort, Countess of Pomfret, Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, Lady Betty Germain, of whom Swift makes mention in the Journal of Stella; and of the present day, ? Miss Prideaux, the widely known amateur binder of books, Hon. Frances Wolseley, daughter of General Sir Garnet Wolseley, and Miss Greene, the designer of plates. Thackeray, whose powers as an artist would not seem to promise well when it came to designing book-plates, did however, make one for Fitzgerald, which is very pretty and quite rare to-day.
A word as to the old engravers in England whose work the collector prizes. Very many old examples owe their whole value to the signature at the foot of the plate. One plate only is known which was engraved by William Marshall, and copies are very seldom seen: this was done about 1640. Then come William Faithorne, David Loggan, John Pine, George Vertue, Simon Gribelin, Skinner, Mountaine, William Hogarth, Sir Robert Strange, Bartolozzi, who made the beautiful and rare plate of Lady Bessborough, Sherwin, Lambert, and Thomas Bewick, who made many a plate in the delightfully quaint style of landscape picturing which is so closely associated with his name.
Of recent workers we may mention the excellent, almost unequalled work of William Sherborn. Very rich and elaborate in all details, beautifully brilliant in the cutting, and when well printed wholly delightful, these plates have ranked for some years above all others. Mr. John Leighton the artist has also designed many a plate, notably the gift-plate which was among the wedding presents of Duke George and Princess Mary. Another artist whose book-plate work is eagerly sought after, and whose style differs wholly from all the others, is Mr. H. Stacy Marks. His plates are always processed, and the drawing, as he makes it, comes out beautifully: generally the interior of a study or a laboratory, sometimes grewsome as when skulls and bones lie about, they are always pleasing in design. Now and then some artist who does not make a business of book-plate work will present his friends with clever designs. Such dainty pieces are used by Edmund Gosse and Brander Matthews, both done by Edwin A. Abbey. Throughout England the interest in the subject of book-plates is very large, as the successful establishment of a society of enthusiastic collectors proves. The literature of the subject grows daily, new designs constantly appear, and the whole machinery of the hobby is in full swing.
Leaving the best until the last we at length come to speak a word upon American book-plates; and among collectors, at least upon this side of the ocean, it is customary to regard all plates used by residents of America as American plates even if made in a foreign country. A very strict application of the term might limit us to those made by Americans. In the early days some of the plates used here were made by native artisans, and some were imported from England. The Southern plates, to which locality came men of wealth and some aristocratic pretensions, were mostly ordered from England; while the Northern examples, on the contrary, are with few exceptions by home talent.
These latter are the most interesting to us, as they are proofs of what self-taught engravers working under hard circumstances can do. As in the older countries, so with us, the early plates were nearly all heraldic, but the arms as given upon some of these may not perhaps be absolutely correct. It was at that time rather unlikely that a man would boldly make public use of a coat not properly his; but errors naturally crept in, as in the plate of Luther Martin, who displays the band of the baronet upon his shield.
At the very beginning, however, and all along through the progress of the book-plate in all countries, there was a large body of plain typographical name-labels accompanying the more fanciful styles through their development, remaining the same from age to age and always plentiful. While these have no particular interest as book-plates, they were often made the vehicle of a bitter sarcasm and a wholesome bit of advice which we must turn aside to take note of. To be sure, people do not agree as to whether books should be loaned or not: some think they should; others will not think of doing so. Grolier had stamped upon the choice bindings of very many of his books, these words: Jo. Grolierii et Amicorum, while a book-owner of no very distant date in this country had immediately succeeding his name upon his book-plate, these very different words, " This book is not loaned. Matt. xxv. 9." (The passage of scripture referred to is that verse occurring in the parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, which says, " Not so, lest there be not enough for us and you : but rather, go ye to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.") Wholesome advice as to the care of books, the choice of reading, and the quick return of borrowed volumes is often met with. When reading such lines, one recalls the slovenly habits of Johnson: how he would use the butter-knife to hold his place in a fine book borrowed from a friend, while he stopped reading and eating to quaff the favorite beverage. Much that is quaint and clever occurs upon these motto-bearing plates.
The earliest dated plate that we know of belonged to Governor Dudley, and the full inscription reads, " His Excellency, Joseph Dudley Esqr. Governor of New England, 1702." In the following year we have two plates dated: William Penn, proprietor of the colony, and Thomas Page of Virginia. All three of these plates are of English make, and all are in the so-called " Early English " style, ? which is briefly, the shield of arms surrounded on three sides with rich, full-rounded mantling, bearing but little resemblance, it is true, to the original mantling which hung about the shoulders of the knight, but being its conventional historical development. Our early plates followed closely the styles of England, and many of our early engravers came over from that country. Among such were Dawkins, who worked wholly in the Chippendale style, and of whose end we know nothing; Maverick, the New York engraver, who was at once the most prolific of all, and one of the very best both as designer and cutter; Rollinson, who made the gilt buttons which ornamented the coat which General Washington wore when inaugurated as President, and who made many pretty plates in the Ribbon and Wreath style; and Smither, who had been a gun-engraver in the Tower of London, and whose name we find upon a few goodish plates.
But of greater interest to us are the American-born engravers, ? those who began or founded the art in our country. Of these, four stand out as especially noteworthy: Nathaniel Hurd of Boston, the best engraver of them all; Alexander Anderson of New York, the first to engrave upon wood in this country; Amos Doolittle, the Connecticut engraver ; and Paul Revere, patriot, worker in silver and brass, and engraver of book-plates which are to-day the rarest of any in our country ? that is, the known copies of his plates are fewer than those of the others.
Hurd occupies the chiefest place because of the excellence of his work, the evidence of carefully trained ability, and his faithful adherence to the pure style. He did not overload his designs as Dawkins continually did, nor was he a lazy engraver, a regular copyist, as Callender seems to have been. Of his work we know about thirty signed examples and a dozen more which can be safely attributed to him. He made the Thomas Dering plate, which is dated 1749, and is the earliest plate, engraved by an American artist, bearing a date.
The story of Alexander Anderson's hardships in getting started as an engraver, - his chosen occupation, - against the preference of his father, who wished him to become a physician, is well known and of particular interest. It seems odd that his father, observing the delight with which the youth began to copy, with a rude home-made graver, some anatomical plates he had gotten hold of, should claim to see in this the evidence of a predilection for the medical profession instead of recognizing the genius of the lad for using the graver. But after numerous discouragements he became a settled engraver, and in 1793 he cut a tobacco-stamp on wood, which seems to have been his first attempt on that substance. In Bewick's Quadrupeds he found the work of a master who so charmed him, that all his future work was influenced by the manner of that famous engraver, and in fact Anderson was given the title of the " American Bewick," so similar was his work to that of Bewick himself. He made book-plates on both wood and copper, of which about twenty are now known. Amos Doolittle, who was born in Cheshire in 1754, and who died in New Haven, Conn., in 1832, was one of the first engravers of historical scenes in America: four views of the early battles of the Revolution earned him much fame. As a book-plate maker, he was fond of the allegorical, I should say; for certainly his plates for the societies of Yale College display a wealth of imagination which could not have been wholly that of those who ordered them. He was one of the self-instructed engravers of whom we had so many. Those early beginners in the art made their own tools, often out of the springs of old knives, rolled copper cents very thin in order to get a plate to work on, used thinned paint as an ink in a press of their own contriving, in order to see the result of their labors; used to cut designs on the silverware of their friends, as it was easy to work and convenient to the hand. Many of them began by working modestly in making silver spoons, buttons, buckles, and fashioning more pretentious pieces of plate as their ability permitted; but to engrave on copper was the ambition of many, and in this they were of necessity self-taught.
Paul Revere was one of these workers in silver, who tried his hand at the book-plate. Four different plates are now known which he signed, and of one of them, the Epes Sargent, but one copy was known for a long time. The rarest book-plate in America is probably that of John Franklin, the brother of Benjamin of greater fame. This plate was engraved by Turner of Boston during the years when that city was Franklin's residence: only one example of this plate has been discovered.
Probably the most valuable plate of all our early examples is General George Washington's. This was engraved in England without doubt. It is of the Chippendale style, and in appearance is no more pleasing than many others; but when this plate is found in an old book which has also the famous signature on the title-page, the price of the book bounds up by fifty-dollar skips. This is the only plate which has had the honor (?) of being thought worth counterfeiting. The thing was done in order to sell at a higher price than they would otherwise have brought, a lot of books at an auction sale in the city of Washington. The fraud was exposed, and the buyers paid the actual worth of the volumes, and not an inflated price. The plate of Bushrod Washington, to whom the General bequeathed Mt. Vernon, bears the same arms, but is a plate of more pretension. Both of these are of extreme interest.
Hastening on to the plates of to-day, we stop to mention a few of special interest or beauty; the plate of the late Dr. Holmes depicting the chambered nautilus is one of the finest, and is the one most sought for by collectors over the sea; the chubby cherub on George Bancroft's plate holds a panel on which is carved the motto ; the plate of Laurence Hutton is very attractive (in a niche of the bookcase stands Thackeray in the Donnybrook Fair attitude; flanking this imposing statue are the works of the old writers of fiction, while a death-mask lies on the shelf above); the plate of Thomas Bailey Aldrich shows a skull on which a daw (?) is perched; and the plate of the late Edwin Booth was a plain armorial design.
New plates are constantly being published, and one cannot easily select a few from the great supply of excellent ones, to speak of. It is hoped that the display on the walls will be of interest, as showing the development of the art of the book-plate. It is a long and eventful journey from the plates of Albert Durer to that of Dr. Holmes; and while the old Pirkheimer plate rouses our interest, we cannot deny that the great day of the book-plate is just at hand. In this country a number of well-known artists and engravers are lending their aid to the great object of the artistic expression of the tastes of the owner in his book-plate. The foremost engraver of plates to-day is Mr. Edwin Davis French, whose designs are so very pleasing, and who is running away with the laurels long worn by Mr. Sherborn of England. Essentially the same in their treatment and conception, these gentlemen both owe the foundation of their success to a study of the old German masters. Mr. W. F. Hopson of New Haven has made some very handsome plates; Mr. Edmund H. Garrett, the illustrator of books, is the leader in the etched plate; and Mr. George Wharton Edwards has certainly made the most artistic designs for process reproduction.
The interest in the subject of book-plates is rapidly spreading over this country: new collectors continually arise, and where there were a dozen when in 1886 Mr. Hutton wrote his articles in the Book-Buyer on our early plates, there are now well over one hundred, and it is difficult to keep pace with newspaper, pamphlet, and book as they are rapidly published, containing more or less of interest to the collector.
Exhibitions have been held at the Grolier Club, in New York City, the first in the country; at the Rowfant Club in Cleveland by the Buffalo Society of Artists ; and one has been open for the past few days at Brentano's in New York: the latest event to be added to this list is the present attempt to interest the Graduates' Club.