Saturday, 28 March 2015

Frederic William Cumberland Bookplate

Frederic William Cumberland (1820-1881)
Library and Archives Canada/MIKAN 3214491 
Last winter I started sorting through the rather massive pile of nineteenth century bookplates that were patiently waiting my attention here in the library. I separated out from the rest of the box the many crests and armorial plates that, while full of interest from a heraldic point of view, are often considered unappealing by the general collector who tends to prefer pictorials executed by well-known artists. Armorial plates are therefore often passed over at sales and auctions, however, this is a good thing for those of us who know our history and can spot notable names easily before someone else can google them.

I've included this week an example of an armorial bookplate that I acquired a long time ago for very a small sum. The real joy of collecting these is twofold. First, they present great studies in Canadian heraldry, a field that thanks to the Royal Heraldry Society of Canada continues to enjoy a large following devoted to learning about and increasing our knowledge of this valuable subject. Second, they present great opportunities to learn about Canadian history through biography.

The bookplate to Frederic William Cumberland is a good example of a typical armorial plate that tends to get passed over. Not listed in Franks or Allen, without initials to narrow the name search or easy access to Canadian references foreign dealers tend to let such plates go for very little. Both the heraldry and name seemed familiar to me, however, and a quick check in Prescott's catalogue confirmed my suspicion.

Born in London in 1820, Frederic Cumberland studied engineering, survey, and architecture before emigrating to Canada in 1847 after marrying into an influential Toronto family. He worked as a surveyor laying out the intersection of Yonge and Bloor Streets and was later the county engineer for York and Peel.

Returning to architecture, Cumberland designed a number of important Toronto landmarks including St. James Cathedral, the Normal and Model Schools of Toronto, York County Court House, Toronto Mechanics Institute (in 1883 this became the Toronto Public Library), the Magentical Observatory, the centre portion of Osgoode Hall, and also University College at the University of Toronto. In addition, he designed several prominent Toronto family homes, including Thomas Ridout, John Ross, and others. Cumberland's own spacious home, Pendarves, was designed and built c.1860.
Period drawing of St. James Cathedral, Toronto

This apparently unused bookplate was intended for a book in Cumberland's private library at Pendarves. Though I haven't investigated yet whether there is any information on the size, scope, or fate of this library I certainly have a number of buildings to revisit on my next trip into Toronto now that I know who designed them. This is perhaps the third joy of collecting bookplates. Having learned something new about Canada's history through biography, I can now go look at these places again and appreciate them in a new light armed with this new knowledge and insight.

Until next time....

Saturday, 21 March 2015

.....And We're Back!

My apologies for my enforced absence from this part of the hobby, looking back I see it's been almost two years since my last post on the blog. I've still been actively engaged in collecting and researching Canadian bookplates, but I had to devote my writing time to completing another academic publication last year and as such had to trim other activities as a result. Unfortunately this blog was one of the "writing" casualties, but now that the book is published I'm free to return to other interests for the time being.

One of the main projects ongoing has been the development of a new illustrated history and catalogue of Canadian bookplates. Prescott's book published almost a century ago now (1919) contained only 1765 entries in its catalogue and not all of the entries were accompanied by biographical information. I've since discovered that as enterprising as Prescott, Harrod, and Ayearst were in developing their list they missed recording over a thousand other Canadian ex Libris dating prior to 1919. In addition, I've added to the list another thousand items dating from 1920-1990, and at present I conservatively estimate perhaps as many as another 2000 entries are still waiting to be included. I haven't quite worked out what the final publication will look like, but I am hoping to make it as comprehensive as possible. As always, any information you have to share on Canadian bookplates is greatly appreciated.  

Being away from the webblog also gave me a bit of time to think about how I'd like to reshape things online a bit. There's some interesting developments on that front as well, so be sure to check back here for updates in the near future. Otherwise, I hope collecting has been going well for everyone and for those of you who had sent emails I will reply as soon as possible. Until next time...

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Bookplate of the Day

Just looking through some recent acquisitions, so I thought I'd post one Im currently researching for everyone to enjoy.  It doesn't seem this library exists anymore as a separate entity, but it may have been folded into another one at the University of Toronto.  If anyone knows for sure, however, please drop me a comment or an email and let me know!

The actual statue of King Alfred that this bookplate illustrates sits in the town square in Winchester, England.  I've had the opportunity to see it firsthand, and it's an impressive figure indeed.

I'll be back on the weekend with a new post.  Until next time...

Friday, 29 March 2013

Bookplates Exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada

The National Gallery of Canada
March is typically a very busy writing month for me - end of the fiscal year at work related activities, research reports to close off, as well as the start of a busy conference season, which means papers to prepare, etc.  As such, I haven't had much time for blogging this month, but I have been pursuing the hobby through exchanging research notes with a new colleague who is preparing an exhibition on Canadian bookplates from the Collection of the National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives.

The exhibition is scheduled to run from May 8-August 30, 2013, and presents a selection of Canadian bookplates from the National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives, beginning with an assortment from the nineteenth century, including those of two former prime ministers, John A. Macdonald and Robert Borden.

Most of the early examples that will be shown are known as armorial bookplates, featuring heraldic devices such as crests and shields to denote pedigree. Also on display will be works by seven artists who are widely acknowledged as Canada’s leading bookplate designers: William Walker Alexander (1870–1948), Morley Ayearst (1899–1983), Alexander Scott Carter (1881–1968), Stanley Harrod (1881–1954), Alfred Harold Howard (1854–1916), J. E. H. MacDonald (1873–1932) and Leslie Victor Smith (1880–1952). All were part of the bookplate revival that began in Canada in the 1890s and continued into the 1930s.

Needless to say I'm very excited to see the opening of this exhibition and encourage everyone to make a trip to the gallery to see it as well.  Until next time...

Sunday, 17 February 2013

The Right Honourable Vincent Massey PC CH CC CD

Rt. Hon. Vincent Massey (1887-1967)
There have been 28 Governors General (GG) of Canada since Canadian confederation in 1867 and I am happy to have in my collection bookplates for most of these gentlemen.  I've blogged before about GG ex libris but a recent inquiry this week has prompted me to write this time about Charles Vincent Massey, the 18th GG of Canada.

Born into an influential and wealthy Toronto family, he earned degrees at the University of Toronto as well as Oxford University before going into public service.  Massey served in uniform during the First World War as a commissioned officer working for the Cabinet War Committee, but otherwise had limited military service before returning to civilian life after the end of the war.  In 1918 he created the Massey Foundation that supported, among other things, the development of new architecture and building in Toronto.  Massey continued to pursue both business and philanthropy until 1925, when through the connections of friends he returned to public service being appointed to the King's Privy Council.  He was subsequently made a minister without portfolio in the Cabinet of family friend Prime Minister Mackenzie King.  Though he failed to secure a seat in parliament through election, he was still included as a special observer to the 1926 Imperial Conference before accepting an appointment as the Canadian ambassador to the United States.  Massey's diplomatic and public service career spanned over 25 years, until his appointment as the first Canadian-born Governor General on 1 February 1952.

Bookplate for Massey the diplomat
This armorial bookplate belonging to Vincent Massey is a personal favourite in my GG collection, and was designed for him by Alexander Scott Carter in 1913.  It is adorned with the shields of Massey's alma maters, University College (University of Toronto) and Balliol College, University of Oxford.  The tree also signifies learning; it may have been commissioned to mark Massey's appointment as the Dean of Men at Burwash Hall, and also a lecturer on modern history at Victoria University.  The composition is typical of Carter's approach to design during that period, as he worked to modernize the traditional coats of arms ex libris in a manner that retained a style of richness appropriate to the ladies and gentlemen he was crafting for.  His accomplishment in architectural decoration and heraldic ornament would eventually earn him accolades across Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

This bookplate is listed in Prescott (p.94), however, it's date of design/issue is wrongly identified as 1918.  A close examination of the bookplate itself in fact reveals the date 1913 in two places; on the upper right arm of the banner in roman numerals, and also, following Carter's signature at the lower right just above Vincent Massey's name scroll.  One might assume, however, that Massey used this as his main bookplate from 1913 to approximately 1925, when his appointment to government may have prompted the design of a new ex libris.

It's no surprise that Carter designed this bookplate.  Massey's family made considerable donations to the University of Toronto's improvement during the First World War era, including the building that eventually became Hart House in 1918.  Carter was the main heraldic artist commissioned to execute the interior design and decoration.  Perhaps it was the execution of this bookplate that helped him land the job, it's a remarkable piece of miniature art.  Until next time... 

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Sir George Stephen Bt and the Canadian Pacific Railway

Sir George Stephen Bt (1829-1921)
While driving home from a meeting the other day I watched a freight train glide past, paralleling the highway on its railway line, and it reminded me that I had a few train themed bookplates that I was planning to do a bit more research on.  I have always found that railway ex libris have been very desirable to both bookplate collectors as well as railway enthusiasts in Canada, and the armorial bookplate shown below belonging to Sir George Stephen Bt, is perhaps one of the most sought after ex libris in this category.

Sir George Stephen (5 June 1829 - 29 November 1921) was a Scottish Born Canadian who is best known to our history as the financial genius behind the creation of the Canadian Pacific Railway.  He also served as President of the Bank of Montreal, and later became the first Canadian to be elevated to the Peerage of the United Kingdom.  Cousin to another famous Canadian, Lord Strathcona, and a personal friend of King George V, George Stephen, 1st Baron Mount Stephen, was also remembered fondly as one of the greatest philanthropists of his time.

Sir George Stephen's Bookplate 
Stephen's coat of arms reflected both his Canadian heritage as well as own industriousness.  He first got into the railroad business in 1877, which eventually led to his association with the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway.  Along with a small syndicate of investors, Stephen poured millions of dollars into the tracks and persevered to see the CPR's construction through to completion in 1885.  For his amazing financial generosity (Stephen repeatedly lent the struggling government money for their railways) he was made baronet the following year, but soon after retired from the helm of the CPR in 1888.

Stephen's bookplate is listed in Franks (No.28013), but not in Prescott, which I find interesting as the plate was obviously engraved sometime after 1886 yet before Stephen's death in 1921.  It seems odd therefore especially given Stephen's celebrity status at the time as one of Canada and England's greatest philanthropists, that his bookplate somehow eluded the cataloguers.  Again, it makes me wonder how many others have also been missed.  The Artist of his plate is identified in Franks as Charles William Sherborn, the well-known English bookplate designer and later vice-president of the Ex Libris Society.

While a resident of Montreal Stephen had a marvellous Italianate style house constructed downtown in what was known as the "Golden Square Mile", a reference to an area where a number of wealthy residents at one time had their homes closely situated to one another.  Stephen's mansion took three years to complete and cost him $600,000.  Eventually turned into a private gentlemen's club in 1926, I was briefly a member when I lived in that city,and had the good fortune to attend several great dinners and parties there.  Today it remains an easily accessible landmark right in downtown Montreal, and I recommend if you're ever visiting that great city to take a stroll by the house.  It's a real joy to see up close.  Until next time...

Friday, 1 February 2013

Bookplates This Week

An interesting ex libris for Huntington
While I work away on a few interesting posts for a future date, I thought in the meantime I'd simply share some recent additions to the collection.  These bookplates came from a box of old books being given away by a local theatre company.  Always happy to take free books, I was very pleased to find several drama themed ex libris amongst the ratty volumes, including a few very nice pictorial plates I had not seen before.

I haven't had the opportunity to research these at all, but if any of you know anything about them, please get in touch at robotwizard1 (at) mac (dot) com.  Until next time...