Voll Kreuz und Trubsal ist der Weg,
Darauf ich hier muss gehen,
Und leiden viel geheime Schlag,
Das macht zu end der lange
Kampf und Streity
So geh ich ein zur stillen Ewigkeit.
IN looking over the albums of the book-plate collector one naturally turns first of all to the plates of Germany; for here the book-plate had its birth, here the printing of books was invented, and here too the science of heraldry, an important adjunct of the early book-plate, was first made use of; for one can hardly claim that the lion of the tribe of Judah or the owl of Athens or the crocodile of Egypt, associated with these tribes or nations as a particular sign though they were, shall be called heraldic in the sense in which we understand the term.
The old German plates are exceedingly quaint in conception, rough in design, and heavy in general appearance. Wood-cuts of course they are, executed with the skill of the wood-cutters of the blocks used in the books of the period. It is true that they will not interest on account of any artistic quality, but how interesting, indeed how precious, do they become as they bring one into touch with those old days when the art of printing was young, when the craft of the wood-cutter was nearing the end of its unquestioned reign, and when the clumsy wood-covered tome was to give way to the daintily wrought leather with its intricate and becoming designs. The beginnings of things are always of importance and interest; for even if in themselves they offer little to the eye, the mind finds meanings in them. So these uncouth prints which have in themselves nothing to recommend them still possess the charm of an icon of the times. There is this characteristic to be observed about the German book-plate: It has a strength both of design and execution that some others lack.
There is boldness, surety, and purpose in it, while in so many of later date, and of other countries especially, there is weakness, diffuseness, and a want of purpose which is made up for by prettiness of detail and overabundance of ornament. The very hardness of the German plates brings to mind the conditions of the times, and gives a suggestion of power and life which is fulfilled in the vitality and strength of present-day German art. Out-of-door scenes are largely pictured upon these plates ; strong-limbed goddesses of the hunt, merchants, scholars, students, physicians, astronomers, are imaged upon them. The instruments they used in the pursuit of their studies, and the surroundings with which they were familiar, are given, and one learns from them not a little of contemporary life.
Immense libraries there were in those days; princely gifts of books were made to them, and plates to commemorate the munificence of a patron are not infrequently met with. One of the finest of these is the old plate of the Electoral Library of Bavaria, in which the arms of Bavaria are placed within a richly designed shield with caryatids to support the frame. This is dated 1618. In another plate of somewhat later date one sees the interior of the book-room, with tiers of shelves filled with books running along the walls, and leading out upon the tree-lined court within which plays a fountain. Surely a desirable spot in which to sit with one’s favorite book.
Upon a very dainty plate coming from the city of Ulm, in Wurtemberg, there is a delightful little vignette giving a picture of St. Christopher bringing the Christ-child through the stream as the legend relates. One sees the strong-framed Offerus pushing his way through the tide with the child upon his shoulder. This bearing of the child in safety won for the giant the name of Christopher, which possessing three days, he died and was canonized.
One of the most interesting of the early dated wood-cut book-plates thus far discovered, and one of the largest in size, is that of Baldasser Beniwalt de Walestat, who was known as Episcopus Trojanus in Phrygia as early as 1491, so that the collector has good reason to believe the date 1502, which appears in a curious combination of Arabic and Roman numerals upon the plate, is authentic and correct The date is given like this, 150II.
The plate has an invocation to Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and to Santa Anna, while their initials appear upon the flaming trees which form the heraldic charges of the shield. From these charges it is deduced that this Bishop Balthasar belonged to the patrician family of Brennwald, which since the fourteenth century has been settled in Zurich.
The arms come under the term canting, as they stand for the burning forest, representative of the name, Brennwald (brenneny to burn, and Wald, a forest). Over the shield the mitre of the bishop is placed, and upon either side are figures of Santa Anna and the Virgin supporting the Child. The plate is spirited in design and execution, and is an excellent and rare specimen of the early ecclesiastical book-plate. But two copies of this are thus far unearthed, and these are in the library of Lausanne.
There is an attractive plate belonging to a lady of the family of Vander Aa, among whom were some famous engravers and printers, members of that branch following these arts for two centuries. This plate is dated 1597, and it has a heavy woodcut border with bears, wyverns, flowers, and fruit showing in the abundant scroll-work. Movable type was used in the printing of the name, and the 97 of the date, which is in old Roman numerals, is queerly expressed thus, 100 ? 3. This family has branches at Antwerp, Delft, and Leyden; and the Anna Vander Aa, whose plate is described, was probably the wife or the daughter of one of the wealthy burghers who carried on the engraving and printing trades.
One of the most notable plates of early Germany is the large one ? it measures thirteen inches by nine ? which was used by the prior of St. Lawrence’s Church in Nuremberg, Dr. Hector Pomer. The plate is a remarkably fine specimen of early engraving on wood, and bears some resemblance to the celebrated Death’s Head Coat-of-Arms engraved by Albrecht Durer. Indeed, there are some features of workmanship displayed in it which excel that print. This Pomer plate shows the arms of the prior’s family quartered with the gridiron, the instrument of martyrdom upon which the patron saint of the abbey ended his life. There is the usual accompaniment of rich mantling, and above the helmet is a demi-nun in hood and cloak. A figure of St. Lawrence, some eight inches high, stands at one side of the shield as a supporter, and the expression of his face is at once tender, lofty, and pathetic. He bears upon the right shoulder the palm of victory, while the gridiron is again visible at his side, the handle in his hand. A nimbus encircles the noble head.
Christoph Jacob Trew, M.D., was a botanist of distinction, a resident of Nuremberg, and the author of several important works as well as the possessor of a valuable library in which were some thirty thousand volumes and seventeen thousand pamphlets, which at his death he bequeathed, along with his large collection of physical and chirurgical instruments, his herbarium, and his natural history cabinets, to the University of Altdorf, where he received his education and his degree. He had no less than seven book-plates engraved. The differences between them are slight, and the description of one will suffice. This plate was engraved about 1760, and is in the best manner of the rococo style, showing the arms of the learned owner within a fancifully designed border of shell-work, below which is appended the cartouche, which adds no little interest to the plate, for within its graceful outline sits contentedly a very peaceable looking member of the canine family. The doctor’s name Trew, which may have had the variant Treu, signifies the quality of loyalty; and it may be supposed that the dog here depicted stood not only for a representation of the favored pet of the scholar, but as well for a play upon his name. This plate is handsomely engraved, the background being filled in with what is sometimes termed the ” brick wall pattern.”
Among German plates there is one of extreme rarity and value which was the property of one Johann Bernard Nack, a citizen and merchant of Frankfurt. This gentleman conceived the idea of having a very elaborate book-plate, and entrusted its designing to one Osterlander and its engraving to St. Hilaire. In the print, as finally completed by these artists, we see the library of the owner, with its shelves of goodly books before which sits the Goddess of Learning, and to whom the master himself presumably addresses himself. The ships of this prosperous merchant lie in the offing, and his employees are landing from them the boxes and bales containing the goods in which he deals. The drawing of the picture one can hardly judge of, as its execution is so far from satisfactory. At any rate the merchant himself found fault with it, for it is known that he commissioned a lady engraver by the name of Wicker to re-engrave the plate. Copies of the first plate are not easily found, and copies of this second one, while not so rare, have an added value in that they are printed on the back of the old one. From this it would seem that having used a few of the first lot, M. Nack became so dissatisfied that he gave his order for the others, and having a quantity of the first unused he had the new engraving printed upon their backs. As the paper of those days was tough and thick, it was able to take the second impression without damage. Those who are so fortunate as to have copies of these prints in both states in their collections may well believe that they have some of the rarest of German plates. The second engraving of the plate is much superior to the first. The date is about 1760.
A plate of a little later date, and engraved by a famous artist, is that of C. S. Schinz, a doctor of medicine. This is by Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, who was an engraver and miniature-painter of renown. He found employment in Berlin, where he did a great amount of work for the book-men, and his work is regarded as of great merit for its originality and spirit. In his work he displayed a strong touch of satire which won for him the title of ” the Hogarth of Germany.” The plate of Dr. Schinz is a very interesting example of his work, affording within its small compass effective proof of his ability in designing and engraving. In the foreground the successful physician, clad in academic robes, is chasing from the door of a tent, within which lies the convalescent patient, the very angel of death himself, who, with an expression of fear and rage upon his bony, fleshless features, hastens with his reaping-knife over his shoulder to escape the descending blow of the symbolic rod of Asculapius, with which the doctor threatens him. This is conceived in the spirit of satire for which its engraver was noted. The conception of the successful defeat of the messenger of death, when even at the bedside of his patient, is well calculated to please the doctor and to increase his practice among such sufferers as might happen to see it. Chodowiecki died in Berlin in 1801, and this plate, which is dated 1792, was engraved when he was about sixty-six years of age. Chodowiecki had a book-plate himself, of an allegorical character, which showed a figure of the goddess Cybele, with two children, one with wings, at her many breasts; foliage sweeps above, while the palette, brushes, and other accessories of the studio are gathered below. Although the plate is not signed, it is known to have been the work of the famous engraver himself.
Coming down to present times and glancing at the plates of to-day in Germany, one finds far fewer engravings than formerly, and discovers that the majority of plates there are now produced by lithography. Although Senefelder, the inventor of the art of lithography, was born an Austrian, the development of the art was carried on upon German soil, so that this art may properly be added to the list of important inventions which Germany has given the world. The plates of recent date in Germany do not compare favorably with those of the older times, when engraving either on wood or copper was always employed in their production. There is a deal of color employed, which is not always to the taste of the book-plate collector, and then, too, in the very abundance of the plates, there would seem to be a reason for their weakness. Designers are too prolific. There is too much sameness to interest the collector, and as the lithographic process does not admit of the individuality of the engraved plate, they suffer in this lack of that desirable characteristic of the individual personal touch. Of present- day designers there are none to compare with Joseph Sattler, a native of Schrobenhausen in Bavaria, and who has studied at the Academy in Munich. Here he revolted from the routine, however, feeling that copying from the classic antique was valueless to him; and leaving the institution, he turned his attention to the striking emblematic imagery of ancient German art, and when he found the revival of the art of the book-plate invading Germany, he was prepared to furnish an effective impetus. His work is characterized by extraordinary fertility of invention, his designs having the merit of separate creations, and not being, as is the case with many workers, a mere rearrangement of old motives, of used-up features. The mediaeval is strong in all his work, and while heraldry plays but a small part in it, it yet has the rich appearance of the old heraldic drawing. He depicts with great success the face and figure of the reader or the student, whether in caricature or from fancy, and all the accessories which the idea of the book-plate necessarily implies are so skilfully managed as never to seem hackneyed or in any way outworn. When he employs color, it is always subdued and exactly suited in tint to the subject in hand. Another important feature of his designs lies in his felicitous disposition of the name and the motto of the owner. So often do these necessary adjuncts embarrass the designer, that to find one with whom their arrangement is easy and satisfactory one cannot but remark it. He has published a book of forty-two designs, which is valuable as a work of art as well as an indication of what the book-plate may be when designed by a master.
Of present-day German plates that of H.I.M. the Empress of Germany is interesting from its possessor, as well as because of the design itself, which rep-presents two shields held upon either arm of an angel; the shield upon the right arm bears the arms of the Fatherland, while those of England occupy the first and third quarters of the other. The royal crown rises above the head of the angel, who stands upon a cloudy platform.