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Book Plates

( Originally Published Late 1800's )

We do not exactly know the period when plates of arms were first pasted in hooks ; but we are in possession of a copy of Twisden's Decem Scriptores, in each volume of which is an engraved plate of arms, with a coronet and cardinal's hat, inscribed, " Ex libris Bibliothec e quam illustriss. ecclesia princeps D. PETRUS DANIEL HUETIUS Episc. Abrincensis domui professae Paris P. P. Soc. Jesu integram vivens donavit anno 1692 ;" and we have another work, which has an engraved plate of the arms and names of Compton, Bishop of London, on or about the same era. This, however, is sufficent to show that Barber has no claim to the invention.

I am induced by an article in your last vol. (xcii., part 11., p. 614), on the subject of what is indefinitely termed a book plate, to offer the following observations. The custom of inserting a small print within the covers of books bearing the name of the owner, with his coat-of-arms, or other device, originated, I believe, late in the seventeenth century ; previous to which many persons had the initials of their names, or their arms, impressed on the outside of the cover ; but this mode being practicable only at the binding of the book, and awkward whenever it changed its owner (even by honest means), was, I presume, for these reasons discontinued.

I lately had in my possession a copy of Wither's Emblems printed in 1635, which contained two different bookplates for the same owner, one for each end of the book, a peculiarity which I have only observed in this instance, and therefore meriting description. The plate at the beginning is of the common size, bearing a shield of arms, and under it the name, viz. : "Sir Francis Fust, of Hill Court, in the county of Gloucester, Baronet, created 21st August, 1662, the 14th year of King Charles the Second." The other plate at the end of the book is larger, being 4 by 61 inches, with the name as on the other, and a shield of 40 quarterings, 20 on the dexter, and the same on the sinister, over which is inscribed—" Marriages in the Male Line"—"Marriages in the Female Line," with this appropriate motto, "Terrena per vices sunt aliena."—This affords a splendid heraldic display, and may be also interesting to the bibliophilist, when he is informed that this family (Fust), now extinct in this country, was said to be the same which produced the immortal printer of Mentz.

I beg to add, that although book plates are engraved by an inferior class of artists, yet we have one or two extant by the hand of the celebrated Hogarth, which, from their rarity, are eagerly sought after by the curious collector. C. S. B.

Ever since the introduction of heraldry it has been the custom with the owners of books to have emblazoned thereon the arms of the individuals or corporations possessing them, and many libraries and museums contain records in this form of the greatest utility to the historian, genealogist, and lawyer; but it is not with the exterior of volumes that we now have to do, though many of them bear decorative stamps embossed in relief or impressed in gold, upon leather and vellum, well worthy of preservation. It is with the heraldic bearings and devices of lovers of literature, found imprinted on paper or vellum, and pasted within the covers of volumes—labels, generally known by the name of bookplates—works often coeval with the period of the printed volume, the original binding, the introduction of engraving, or the invention of printing, and highly curious in themselves, though now somewhat scarce, and particularly so in early books. This scarcity arises from rebindings, and from the possessors tearing away records of former owners, to make space for their own. In the present day it is pleasing to see growing a conservative spirit, dictating the preservation and restoration of old bindings, plates, notes, papers, and all appertaining to the volume or its former guardian. In past times when a book changed owners, these plates were torn out or destroyed, new ones being sometimes stuck over the old devices—a happy method for the collector, by which many curious examples have been preserved, three or four deep.

In our day these records of past ownership are more regarded, and frequently rest beside the printed arms of present possessors, if there be room for them. In some places the modern book-plate takes the fly-leaf opposite, or the end of the cover ; the board lining being the better position for security, as it is an integral part of the volume.

There are several collections of " book-plates"—works curious, beautiful, and instructive, telling of history, family story, and art in blazonry, showing how the latter has degenerated in the display of form, tincture, and invention

Of our specimens the earliest is a copy in fac-simile, recovered from an old vellum cover (book unknown), cast away by its possessor in rebinding, as an extraneous affair, that had nothing to do with him or his volume.

Our example, bearing the inscription " CAROLVS AGRICOLA HAMMONIVS IVRIS VTRIVSQVE DOCTOR," is a good specimen of an old hook-plate, rich in design and imagery apart from the heraldry. It is copied from a relief block, a woodcut, rudely executed, probably upon the side of the grain of the wood, with a knife—a method by which, doubtless, the drawing has suffered, though the design could not suffer. Had it been engraved upon the end of the wood, as practised now, the forms probably would have been purer. The work bears the initials of the artist, J. B., and a date 15—. The original is coloured by hand, and exceedingly rich with its mantling of red, black, and white, types of life, death and immortality ; and the whole in combination is very poetical. Of the shield, the dexter chief is occupied by a sower, typical of the fruitfulness of nature; and the sinister base by a like figure bearing emblems of faith, hope, and wisdom. The sinister chief and dexter base are filled by lancets or, on a ground gules. The crest, occupying a large portion of the design, very suggestively rises (instead of from a wreath) out of a crown of thorns, typical of our Saviour's sufferings. The crest is an angel of faith, bearing in the right hand a golden cross, and in the left the serpent of wisdom ; holding in its mouth an empty poppy head, emblems of trust and devotion, the soothing influences of medicine and religion—the faith in this world and the next. The corners are filled by subjects representing the seasons, and the whole is worthy of a learned mediæval doctor, who gloried in his profession, and, doubtless, like all his craft in the Middle Ages, a great believer in phlebotomy. The favourite old method of rendering surnames in Latin causes much confusion in the identification of names : Carolus Agricola Hammon (both jurisconsult and doctor) was probably a German, and the artist, J. B., of the same nation.

As a contrast to this glorious old block, of the early Renaissance, I append some sins from the decadence, that perhaps descended to its most degrading depth in our own century, when heralds produced the strangest combinations—placing colour upon colour, and metal upon metal, contrary to all laws of Heraldry, harmony, and reason, as also to those of proportion and propriety. Of my slight sketches of detail, No. 1, on the tinted plate, is taken from an 18th century shield, where all the form and appropriate use of the arm of defence is lost in the scrolls of the Louis Quatorze period. No. 2 exhibits an unconventional crest upon a degraded helmet, of the same period. As a crest the tree is a very good emblem ; yet the three here approach far too nearly to nature to suit the "applied " purposes of heraldry, which, though founded upon natural objects, admits of a great deal of fancy in adapting forms to spaces and special uses. Here the casque and vizor are in one piece ; the mantlings bear but little resemblance to a cloth covering, of two colours, ornamentally jagged.

In the same cut, No. 3 is somewhat like fire or hair, and No. 4 scrolls that have lost all attributes of parentage. To denote No. 6 a strap or garter, is no compliment to reason. To call No. 7 a crest is the wildest thing of all, as if a knight or sea-king could bear a picture above his helmet ; and yet this is the crest of a peer of the realm :

" EXMOUTH, Viscount and Baron (Pellew).

" Upon the waves of the sea, the wreck of the Dutton East Indiaman, upon a rocky shore off Plymouth Garrison—all proper,' (or rather " improper "). This is the description of a 19th century herald, and a fair specimen of the miserable concoctions produced at hap-hazard and thrust upon such heroes as Nelson and Duncan.

There are some book-plates on which the crest only is displayed, with or without monograms and mottoes—and a few non-heraldic plates, of a pictorial or decorative character ; but, as the latter are not so remarkable either for art or association, I have given no examples of them.

Many of the-early book-plates are printed from relief blocks, probably of wood, though some are from copper, the principal material used for centuries past, and still adopted, except when superseded by modern wood engraving or lithography. This latter process is used where variety is desired, as in the book-plates of Sir W. Stirling-Maxwell, Bart., who has a very large variety, designed to suit every conceivable form and shape in which books are printed : they are mostly devised and adapted by himself, some being after choice and rare authorities.

The three examples which we present are from copper plates, and display the attributes of most—a border or frame, with arms, and sometimes the crest within ; as that of the late Mr. Richard Ford,. the Spanish traveller and well-known critic, who adopted a design frequently used in the 17th century on title-pages. Our example is taken from that imprinted upon the first edition of " Don Quixote."

The centre plate is that of Earl Somers, a modern engraving, founded upon a design of the last century ; the 3rd, within an inter-laced border of light bolt work, was formerly much used by Mr. Stirling, and is often to be found in his library, so rich in early illustrated treasures.

The respective book-prints of Lords Delamere and Houghton are from wood, and of modern design.

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