There is a very curious plate, which probably dates in the first quarter of the present century, in which the profession of the owner is apparent at a glance. This is the plate of J. Wilson, a professor of phrenology, who, to make sure that his exceedingly obvious design should not be misunderstood, has recorded his occupation along with his name. The plate pictures some half-dozen skulls tumbled in a little group upon the ground. The expression of the fleshless facial bones is grotesque to a degree. The various bumps are labelled, and it may be supposed that these skulls represented here are samples of the best specimens the professor examined in his whole experience!
The original copper of the book-plate of Thomas Carlyle is on view at the South Kensington Museum, London, and many prints of it are about. There is a letter from Carlyle himself to H. T. Wake, the designer of the plate, which, dated 24 November, 1853, expresses the great writer’s pleasure in the design by the following words : –
“The new plate is exquisitely finished and very excellent as an arabesque. Nevertheless we will stand by the first one, and on the whole if you have it at the right size, and know a good engraver, I will request you to have it -engraved for me without further delay. We are going out of town in a week till about New Year’s Day. I hope you may have it ready about that time.”
By this and the word of Mr. Wake himself, it appears that there were three or four designs submitted before the one chosen was finally decided upon. This is somewhat suggestive of a gravestone in form as well as in the style of the lettering. It bears two dolphin’s heads for crest, with the motto Humilitate on a ribbon above, while the name of the owner occupies the carved base.
Investigation has not yet revealed that Sir Walter Scott used a book-plate; but there are reasons to hope that such a delightful bit may yet be numbered among the memorabilia of this loved writer, and if it really is discovered, it may possibly have upon it the Scott motto, *The moon renews her horns, the meaning of which is not clear unless explained, but upon explanation becomes of no little interest. This, it seems, was one of the sayings of the Lowland borderers, and was a hint to the laird that the larder needed replenishing. It was when the horns of the moon became visible that those marauding expeditions which make border history so interesting to read were undertaken, and the speaking of the words was as effective as the placing of the spurs within the larder!
Among modern plates of special interest the striking plate of Rudyard Kipling, designed by his father, holds an important place. Its principal feature is an enormous elephant, reminding one of ” ould obstructionist” himself, as he fills completely the framework of the design. Seated within the howdah, easily reclines one who may be supposed to be the interpreter of the ways of the jungle himself, while upon the massive head of the willing beast sits his guide, the rear occupied by the servant holding the hubble-bubble which the occupant of the howdah smokes with apparent comfort as he reads his little volume. John Couch Adams, who shares with Leverrier the honor of having discovered the planet Neptune, used a book-plate of a very simple and pleasing design. It is of especial interest perhaps, be- cause it presents a fairly accurate portrait of this distinguished scholar. The portrait is enclosed within a circle, while around it lie some stars and there is by them a branch of the victor’s palm. Abundant honors were heaped upon Professor Adams when his rich discovery was known to the world, and when he died, in 1892, a monument was erected to his memory in Westminster Abbey, although he was buried in Cambridge. Sir J. E. Millais has designed just one bookplate, and that was for Mr. Christopher Sykes, and represents the legend of the saint of that name with the arms of the Sykes family in a conspicuous place. It is a plate of beauty and yet of utter simplicity.
Thackeray designed one book-plate; this was for his friend Edward Fitzgerald, and in which the likeness is supposed to be that of Mrs. Brookfield. Mr. Edmund Gosse has given out the following note from Fitzgerald relative to the plate: –
“Done by Thackeray one day in Coram Street in 1842. All wrong on her feet, so he said, – I can see him now. – E. F. G.”
The device itself is simple, being that of an angel holding before her a shield of arms. As to the feet, one would say that they were tiny and in the picture are pressed very closely together, so that the figure looks in danger of tipping over.
The collector looks with peculiar interest upon the book-plate which bears the name The Hon. J. B. Leicester Warren. This is the plate of the late Lord de Tabley, who, before he succeeded in the later years of his life to the title of de Tabley, had endeared himself to many friends by the unassuming gentleness and the marked sweetness of his character, and whose work as a poet was of such merit as to have won the regard of the critics best suited to judge its value. To book-plate collectors he will always be known as the first student who considered these little bits of engraving worthy of a treatise. His Guide to the Study of Book-plates will ever remain as an enduring monument. Written in the most scholarly manner, with every evidence of leisure and of ripe judgment, with indications of a poetical mind and of one well stored with the knowledge which marks the man of culture, the book has no small merit surely as a literary production. His system of classifying and naming plates is likely to endure for all time, and as his book grows rarer and rarer, the more will it be prized by its owners. His plate was designed by his friend William Bell Scott, and it most fitly indicates the tastes of its owner: The shelves of books for his love of the printed page, the coin drawers to hold his medals and coins, the branch of the bramble, – for Lord de Tabley was fond of botany and had made the genus Rubus a special study, – the sketch of the dock-weed, – for the Rumex was again one of his favorites, – and the manuscript verses to indicate his position as a poet. The plate was a surprise to its owner, whose modesty, had he been allowed to have his say, would very probably never have permitted so many personal suggestions to creep in. The plate is one of real beauty, and when the collector can accompany it with some autograph letters from its lamented owner, he may well feel proud of his possessions.
The plate of Mr. Gladstone was a gift to him from Lord Northbourne in 1889, on the occasion of the celebration of the golden wedding of Mr. and Mrs. Gladstone, and the dates 23d, July, 1839, and 23d, July, 1889, appear in the design. This date, if memory serves, is not the exact one of the wedding, but is a few days later, the reason for which I do not know. The original form of the name, ” Gledstane,” is played upon in this design in having kites (gleds) and stones introduced. The helmet is made rather prominent to emphasize the fact that Mr. Gladstone remains a commoner. The plate is handsome and successful as a bit of allegorical work, but it hardly seems to be the style of plate that its owner would have chosen himself.
Austin Dobson uses a plate which was originally a tail-piece in his volume of verses, entitled, At the Sign of the Lyre. Alfred Parsons designed it, and it represents the inn sign with the lyre painted on it, and the initials A. D.
The plate of Mr. Edmund Gosse represents a gentleman of the seventeenth century walking in his garden, and reading a little volume of verses. This graceful little picture is from the pencil of Edwin A. Abbey. Laurence Alma-Tadema employs a large plate, circular in form, and in which the pictorial arts find representation. A large monogram fills the foreground. This was designed by Elmsly Inglis.
The book-plate of Sir Henry Irving is a curious affair printed in black and red, and which seems to represent a dragon bearing aloft a scroll with the name of the owner upon it. By the way, Sir Henry has said something about the plate in a note which is to the following effect: –
” I think that it was designed by Bernard Partridge, though there is nothing of that bird in the composition. The occult meaning – so far as I know there is none; but Partridge may have intended his ‘ dragon’ to be a sort of glorified sandwich man with the Lyceum play-bill!” Frederick Locker-Lampson, the lamented poet, used a pleasing design which was made by Walter Crane, who has devised some plates of great beauty. For some of the children of the Locker family, Kate Greenaway has made some fetching plates.
The plate of Sir Walter Besant shows the interior of the study of the scholar, with rows of books about, the hour-glass upon the writing table, and the globe at one side.
Anthony Trollope, a novelist who gave the world some delightful stories, used a very simple bookplate of the plain armorial style, showing the arms of the family, and having his name engraved below. No motto is given which might indicate the novelist’s favorite author, or his chosen words of comfort or inspiration.
A modest little plate, whose design and legend indicate little to the average observer, was used by Reginald Heber, the hymn-writer. This plate is simply the bishop’s mitre with the words R. Calcutta below it. Heber was the second Bishop of Calcutta, and, while he may not have had so many books as did his brother (who, be it remembered, had a library in Hodnet, one at Oxford, an immense one at Paris, two in London, one at Antwerp, one at Ghent, and others still in Flanders and Germany), he still must have had a considerable collection. He was among the worthies honored with the friendship of Sir Walter Scott, and the sixth canto of Marmion is dedicated to him in token of this friendship.
The Right Honorable Benjamin Disraeli is the plain inscription upon a simple armorial design which shows the arms of his family impaling those of his wife. The motto, Forti nibil difficile, “Nothing is difficult to the brave,” seems well chosen in view of the successful career of this author and statesman, whose ups and downs of political life came with something like regularity. This plate was made previous to his elevation to the peerage with the title of Earl of Beaconsfield, which honor was conferred in the year 1876.
The plate of Rider Haggard, designed by Rev. W. J. Loftie, is one that few can read, as it is composed of strange hieroglyphics, but it gives one the impression of being well suited to the writer of She and the recorder of the amazing adventures of Umslopagaas.
Mrs. Humphry Ward employs a book-plate, but not by herself alone. Upon her design, which represents books and an hour-glass with the old motto style On bookes for to rede I me delyte, the inscription shows that it marks the books of Mr. and Mrs. Humphry Ward. The number of joint plates of this character is large, and is increasing.
A year or two ago the Literary World of London related a curious fact in connection with the rehearsal of Mr. Wilson Barrett’s play ‘The Manxman, founded upon the novel of the same name by Mr. Hall Caine, in which a forgotten bookplate played a peculiar part. In the third act of the play Philip Christian is made Deemster and his house is surrounded by a tumultuous crowd shouting and cheering for “the Deemster Christian.” Philip then steps to the window and addresses the people outside in a speech which readers of the novel will remember. It seems that upon the occasion referred to the young actor who was to make this speech showed considerable nervousness and uncertainty, seeing which Mr. Barrett called out from the footlights, ” Bring him a book; let him hold it open in one hand and seem to have been reading.” The stage-manager then shouted to the property-man in the wings to bring a book quickly. Presently out of the property-room an old dusty leather-bound book was brought by the call-boy. As it was handed to the actor who was to use it, he opened it and chanced to observe a book-plate pasted within the front cover which read, “The Deemster Christian – Isle of Man.” At the next instant the supers outside were shouting, “The Deemster Christian, the Deemster Christian.” It is claimed that some years ago the book was bought with a job lot of other things for the use of the theatre at the sale of a former Deemster’s effects, but had never happened to have been brought into use until the moment it was put into the hands of the Deemster’s namesake on the mimic stage. The author himself is said to have been unconscious that there had been a Deemster Christian when he so named his character. If this story is quite true, it adds a very curious bit to the agenda of the bookplate collector; but it seems to need some confirmation, even were it in so small a matter as the naming of the theatre in which the event occurred.
A very noticeable plate is that of Miss Ethel Selina Clulow, in which the lamp of knowledge forms the conspicuous feature, as it stands upon the table shedding its bright beams upon the interesting pile of books at one hand and the implements of the writer as they lie about the board. A bunch of fruit-laden branches fills the upper part of the frame, expressive probably of the fruit of knowledge, and the motto, My book’s my world, is given upon a ribbon which floats among the leaves. A feature likely to be overlooked is the neatly designed scroll which forms the initials of the lady’s name.
It is almost impossible to describe to one’s satisfaction the beautiful work by which Mr. Charles W. Sherborn has endeared himself to lovers of engraved pictures. His book-plates are marvels of skill in design and execution. The brilliancy of the prints, the intricacy of the design, the fitness of all parts to each other and to the central purpose and idea of the plate, render all his pieces attractive even to him who looks casually and without the knowledge of the expert. Among the most prized of his plates are that for the Burlington Fine Arts Library; the plate of All Souls’ College, Oxford; the plate of William Robinson, in which the delightful vignette of Erasmus is reproduced; the plate of Samuel S. Joseph, with its reproduction of a striking bit by Rembrandt; the very ornate plate for General Wolseley, and the less fanciful though equally well-adapted design for his daughter, the Honorable Frances G. Wolseley; a handsome heraldic plate for Arthur Vicars, Ulster King of Arms; the plate for Sidney Colvin, friend and biographer of the lamented Robert Louis Stevenson ; and a plate made for his own books, in which the allegorical figures represent the passage of the soul from birth to immortality. All of Mr. Sherborn’s work is eagerly sought by the collectors, but few on this side of the ocean have any considerable number of the plates he has made. They number well over one hundred now.
Closely resembling the work of Mr. Sherborn in some respects, yet distinguished from it by a personal touch which not merely saves it from the charge of copy-work, but is its real recommendation, is that done by Mr. G. W. Eve, a younger worker but one of well-nigh equal ability. To the American collector there is little in the mere heraldic book-plate to attract him. He sees nothing but an arrangement of crosses, dots, circles, and various queerly drawn members of the animal kingdom, with some allowance of fabled monsters thrown in. So that while an American may have a proper pride in the heraldic bearings of his ancestors, he will not use them in a too conspicuous position upon his book-plate. Mr. Eve has chosen for the particular field in which to show his art, the heraldic form of the book-plate, and it is safe to say that no artist of the present day succeeds so admirably in giving the hackneyed arrangements of the shield of arms a touch of life and lucidity which once more recommends them to the tired observer. All his designs are etched, and the workmanship displayed is something to admire. Unfortunately for the collectors, the owners of plates by this artist are not lavish in bestowing them upon known members of their guild.
The work of H. Stacy Marks is of so personal and peculiar a sort as to be recognized at once. His peculiarities consist chiefly in a noble disdain of the merely ornamental: all his plates bear the mark of the trained artist who depends upon accurate drawing and the correct lighting and shading, rather than the intricacy or the variety of his patterns, for his success. The plate for Mr. James Roberts Brown, sometime President of the Sette of Odd Volumes of London, is one of the most characteristic of his delightful bits. In this we see the learned chemist (the portrait, by-the-by, is a caricature with no little resemblance to Mr. Brown, who is something of a chemist) sitting before his study table watching some process of vaporization which is going on within the crucible which, upon its tripod, receives the hot flame of the alcohol lamp. Indications of the literary tastes and the heraldic knowledge of the owner are not wanting, but they are shown with a directness and an intentional lack of posing for effect which one recognizes with a sort of gratitude. The merely ” pretty ” plates are so common and so unsatisfactory that when one comes across a strong bit of masculine work it is a relief and a delight. Mr. Marks has made many plates, and in them all may be found these merits of individuality and simplicity. In his recent volume of reminiscences, Pen and Pencil Sketches, he says some pertinent things regarding the art of the book-plate, from which the following lines are quoted. ” I have looked through many collections, and, generally speaking, found in them more that appealed to the herald and the genealogist than to the artist. Yet there are many admirable examples by the old men, to mention only Diirer, Holbein, and lesser artists influenced by them, while to-day there is an almost unlimited list of men capable of designing beautiful and artistic work. . . .
But examples of those artists are comparatively rare in the folios of collectors compared with ‘ Armorials,’ namely, heraldic bookplates of coat-of-arms and crests commonplace in character, without design, without taste, without feeling, the common or garden book-plate, which is seen in the windows of seal engravers or die-sinkers, and which have even less relation to art than the humble attempts of the individual who decorates the pavement of our streets. So when a man resolves on having a book-plate of his own, in nine cases out of ten he takes the aid of a tradesman rather than of an artist. There is much to be done in elevating the taste, it appears to me, both of those who collect and those who commission book-plates.”
His latest plates are for G. A. Storey, in which Orpheus is seen piping to the assembled animals, and for Mary H. Marks, in which the birds of the forest appear in great profusion, making a veritable jungle picture.
To Mr. R. Anning Bell belongs the credit of successfully initiating a new style of book-plate designing. In England, a country where artists abound who continually attempt the development of something new with painful lack of foundation to build upon or education to second them, this is an achievement. Mr. Anning Bell, however, outranks his competitors and gives to the designing of the bookplate sincere attention with thorough training and a true artistic perception to aid him. There is an elegance in these bits which wins for them high praise from capable critics, and in his designs may be found all the qualities which make for the perfect work of art. Here is beauty of form, exquisite composition, a just appreciation of line and mass work, and in addition to these too often neglected features, fitness for the purpose intended and lettering well designed and skilfully placed. It is true that not all his designs will please, but surely such a delightful bit as the plate for Christabel A. Frampton, showing two young ladies in the open air enjoying the cool of the evening, with guitar and song, cannot fail to commend itself. The seated figure has been borrowed, it may be said in passing, to decorate the handsome plate of Madeline C. Chevalier, which is, were it needed, but added proof of the charm of the drawing.
Other makers of plates there are in great profusion, but those which are here mentioned are the recognized leaders, and in the number of their plates will be found many more interesting examples than in the works of all the others combined.