“I’m stingy grown
What’s mine’s my own”
-motto, unknown bookplate.
A bookplate is a label pasted to the inside cover of a book that indicates ownership in a personal or institutional library collection.
Emma Toedteberg, librarian at the Long Island Historical Society from 1889 to 1936, was a devout collector of bookplates, also known as “ex libris.” It was a passion inspired by her father, Augustus Toedteberg, a prolific Brooklyn illustrator noted for theater portraits and dramatic scenes. Toedteberg illustrated a 54 volume Records of the Stage, and was known as “Dean of the Corps” among book and print collectors of the American theater, which included over one thousand rare playbills.
Emma expanded her father’s collection of bookplates to number over 7,000 and housed the collection in a “massive oaken cabinet… almost six feet in height” with “forty-four glass-topped drawers” filed with “neat piles of bookplates.” The cabinet stood behind the reference desk “in what used to be called the ‘Ladies Parlor,’” where Emma held court with her assistants, Miss Prentice and Miss Tuttle. (North, Edgerton G., “The Society’s Bookplates” (1964) The Century Book, LIHS, chap. 4). The collection was later added to by Harriet Stryker-Rodda, librarian at the Society in the 1960s who published guides to genealogical research, Brooklyn church records and colonial handwriting.
The art and industry of bookplates originated with the first printing of books in Germany in the mid-15th century. Some of the earliest bookplates in the United States appeared in the personal libraries of Southern royalists known as the “Virginia Cavaliers,” and showed the influence and patterns of English heraldry (The Curio, “American Book-Plates and their Engravers”). Yet, says bookplate writer Theodore Wesley Koch, a Dante scholar who worked at the Library of Congress at the turn of the century, “armorial plates are in questionable taste for most American families.” Still, Paul Revere, the New England horseback rabble-rouser against British occupation, made a living as a copperplate printer and engraved colonial bookplates in the Tory tradition:
Some bookplates forgo the intricacies of history and symbols, like the ex libris of Colonel Alden Spooner, a printer who in 1811 founded the Long Island Star, which acted as the official paper for three counties, Kings, Queens and Suffolk.
The personal bookplate of Emma Toedteberg was engraved by Edwin Davis French (1851-1906), who studied at the Art Students’ League and served a stint as the League’s President. French engraved and designed over 200 bookplates for esteemed collectors and institutions, and designed plates for his personal collection of international language books, with an emphasis on Volapuk, a constructed language devised in 1879 by Johann Martin Schleyer, a German priest.
Bookplates by French:
In the Ladies Parlor, Emma also collected a rich selection of bookplates owned by women:
Often the bookplate shared by a married couple is filed under the lady’s name:
Bookplate collecting veered between a study and a hobby. Bookplates were sold at auction like paintings and acquired by institutions such as the British Museum, with a collection of over 35,000 plates. At its least artful the bookplate was a name-tag: “Many estimable people find a difficulty in distinguishing between mine and thine in books as well as in umbrellas” (Koch, “A Defense of Bookplates,” 1915). The literature of bookplates at the turn of the century is often persnickety and highfalutin. “A taste in books may be easily whitewashed,” says Temple Scott, a Gilded Age editor and bibliographer, “but a taste in a book-plate flares its owner’s heart right into the eyes of the demurest damsel or the simplest swain.” The bookplate owner is sworn to protect the virtue of the book: “He who could find it in his heart to write on title-pages could surely commit a murder.”
“Tis meat and drink to me to see a fool.”
-motto, bookplate of Mrs. St. Leger Harrison.
The index to the Emma bookplates lists many bookplate owners as bankers, statesmen, actors, lawyers, “capitalists,” and one “gem expert.” The art and collecting of bookplates was chiefly an upper-middle class practice. In the indexes, one does not find bakers, dock workers, or sandhogs. As Temple Scott again chimes in, “the average mortal of this work-a-day world and age has not the means wherewith to acquire such treasures of the bibliophile. Nor, perhaps, has he the pedigree with which to adorn them.” Temple Scott managed John Lane publishing house on Fifth Avenue, and in 1902 was accused of stealing $7,000 from the company- perhaps “means wherewith to acquire such treasures of the bibliophile.”
The oldest institutional plate in the Emma collection dates to 1759, for the Albany Society Library of colonial New York:
Among the oldest undated is the bookplate of Gilbert Burnet, Bishop of Salisbury (1643-1715), which features the Virgin Mother & Son of God, and a hunting horn:
William Gifford Palgrave (1826-1888), a Jesuit spy in Syria and government agent in Abyssinia:
Captain Inglefield, who in 1782 perished in the wreck of His Majesty’s ship, The Centaur:
Lord Byron, the Romantic poet, who Augustus Toedteberg admired and kept a scrapbook devoted to:
Jack & Charmian London:
The Lotos Club:
The bookplate of John Jacob Raskob, a vice president of General Motors, chairman of the Democratic National Committee in the 1920s, and the man behind the money that built the Empire State Building – in 1929 Raskob wrote an article for Ladies Home Journal called “Everybody Ought to be Rich“:
A bookplate might mark the gift to a library collection:
Emma’s collection also includes boxes of plates by individual engravers. John Evans (1855-1943) was an award-winning artist and wood-cut engraver from Brooklyn. A distinguished Freemason, Evans provided illustrations for turn of the century weekly magazines, and was noted as the last of a generation of flourishing woodcut artists from the late nineteenth century. Evans’ portrait shows the apparatus used for his art.
A hoary romance:
*A good lively blog.
*Book and print history at The Private Library.
*The American Society of Bookplate Collectors & Designers
*Story about a Smithsonian curator and bookplate scholar.
*Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia
*Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing
*The Bookplate Society