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The Owner's Name
( Originally Published 1913 )
A schoolboy's rhyme, "Steal not this book, for fear of shame, for here you see the owner's name," suggests the origin of book-plates. It is a far cry from that to some of the rare or splendid labels of the kind.
A Royal Book-plate.-Queen Alexandra's is oblong in shape, it has two divisions, and is bordered by oakleaves and roses. In the lower division you see " Thy wild and stormy steep, Elsinore," the first home of the " Sea-king's daughter from over the sea " ; in the upper panel you see pictured the towers of Royal Windsor. On a row of books, at the base of the design, you read the names of Shakespeare, Byron, Shelley, and " John Inglesant " ; and, upon music-folios, the names of Brahms, Schumann, Wagner, and Gade-a Danish composer. Across the top of the book-plate runs the score of the opening bars of Gounod's Romeo and Juliet. Her Majesty's favourite dogs also figure in the design-Alix, a beautiful borzoi, and the spaniels Billie and Punchie. The motto is " Faithful unto death," and the name on the label is " Alexandra."
The Tenebrous Painter's Plate.-One cannot imagine that ex-libris ever coming upon the market; the few to whom Queen Alexandra gives a copy of her bookplate will treasure it, of course. But there are old book-plates still more rare. In a capital historical novel, written by Mr. A. N. Cotton, about " The Company of Death," or life in Naples circa the year 1647, the hero takes up a book for a moment, " while Salvator Rosa continued to paint feverishly." Salvator Rosa was, as you know, the artist of dramatic lights and darks. The book belonged to him, and " pasted inside the cover was a small copper-plate engraving," which showed " a skeleton seated before an easel." On the easel rested a portrait of Salvator, crowned with a fool's-cap, and a palette-knife in hand. "Towering above the easel is a gallows, from which, suspended by a rope, there hangs a wreath of laurel."You see the symbolic nature of the plate. The whole is supported by two female figures; on the left, Comedy, who holds in her hand the model of a dying gladiator; on the right, Tragedy, upon whose outstretched palm a Pulcinetto dances gaily. Leaning over the border of the engraving are three winged amorini, the countenance of each is in the semblance of a grinning death'shead. Below is the simple inscription: " Ex-Libris Salvatoris Rosa." If one could only come across a copy of that !The Plates of Peeping Pepys.-Very rare old bookplates sell for much money, though at one time recently it seemed as if collecting them was in a decline. Not less than twelve guineas must be paid if you are to own an example of Pepys' principal book-plate; it shows the egotist's portrait, of course. But he had another, a large armorial; and this may be bought for four guineas or so. There is a demand in the United States for a book-plate of that period belonging to William Penn, and a copy will sell for ten pounds.
Designer-Plates.-Sometimes it is the designer's name, not the owner's, which lends distinction to a book-plate. Before me as I write lie three " states " of a book-plate designed by Aubrey Beardsley. A winged pierrot, wearing a very small top-hat with rolled brims, advances from an act-drop towards the footlights ; he wears a large pen and a large stylus, and exhibits the word ex-libris on a placard: a Cupid couchant on the stage peeps up at him from the foot of the curtain.
That is the first " state," the second bears on the curtain the name " John Henry Ashworth," and the third " state " reads " John Henry Ashworth, 1898." Rarity comes into play in this case also, for only a hundred copies of the third state, and fifty of the second state exist. Designer-plates are always interesting, and may be profitable to acquire.The Franks Collection.-There are several books about book-plates, none very good. " The Journal of the Ex-Libris Society " contained much information, but it is more helpful to the expert than to the beginner. The place to study book-plates at is the Print Room of the British Museum; Sir Augustus Franks left nearly five-and-thirty thousand as a legacy to the National Collections. Somewhere in the great new wing of the Museum a memorial to Franks may be erected, I hope, for whether you go there to study English porcelain or enamels, stone axes or snuff-boxes, civic rings or Rococo jewels, you will be studying, in the main, the legacies of Sir Augustus Franks. His collection of book-plates is still the finest in quality and the most considerable in quantity extant. Forgery in this line has more than begun, and such a thing as re-using a long-laid-by " Chippendale " or " Festoon " copper-plate, with the name altered, is not unknown. It is always worth while to buy cheaply a second-hand book which contains a good book-plate.