Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The Canadian War Services Library

Just a short update as I'm spending more time outside these days than inside at the keyboard, but I will have a couple of great updates later this week.  Lately I've been doing some research to learn more about this bookplate I acquired some time ago:

The Canadian War Libraries by Leslie Victor Smith (1939)

Designed by Leslie Victor Smith in 1939, it is a typical example of his later work for official organizations.   It also provides us with good evidence of the various names being used by Canadian library councils prior to the outbreak of the Second World War.  I especially like this one as well as it was used to mark books donated by the students of Fort Erie High School in Ontario.

Leslie Victor Smith's personal bookplate

As mentioned in my previous post on bookplate resources, there is a book available written by Colgate that details Smith's Ex Libris work.  I actually don't yet have a copy of this important volume, but it's on the 'to do' list for this summer.  Very likely I'll pick it up during one of my travels away from the keyboard.  See you again soon.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Removing bookplates

So you've decided you're going to collect bookplates.  Great!  But where to begin?  That is always the question.

My bookplate collection started somewhat accidentally.  A little while ago now I came into possession of several books that had bookplates in them, and this prompted me to become more interested in ex libris, labels, etc.  Then I attended an antiquarian book fair, where one dealer had a box full of them he was selling for a few coins each.  Before I knew it I had 3 or 4 loose bookplates plus the ones in my books, and well, suddenly there was a collection.

I made the decision that any book I was planning to retain in my private library would also retain any provenance it came with, including the bookplates.  So I started hunting through various shops, flea markets, garage sales, estate sales, church sales, etc. for cheap old books containing bookplates.  In many cases these books were heavily damaged and bought for a pittance, so I didn't feel any remorse about rescuing the bookplate from the book.  That said, I have on occasion, and know others as well, that remove bookplates from perfectly good books.  These books are then often moved along either by sale or donation.

Anyway, enough preamble.  Let's assume you've got yourself a great bookplate waiting to be removed from a book.  What to do?

First, you'll need a clean work area plus some basic but important tools.  Here's the list:

1. A small plain rubberized cutting mat.
2. A micro-spatula (available at any local arts and crafts store)
3. Scissors
4. An X-acto knife
5. A few sheets of paper towel
6. A sheet of wax paper
7. Something heavy (like two bricks)
8. An old plate
9. Some boiling water

I keep most of these items in a simple pencil case along with a few other items like a small magnifying glass.  More on that later.  Now that you've got your tools, your place to work at, and your mat to work on, let's remove the bookplate.  Start by:

a. Boil some water, and when it is ready pour a small amount out onto the plate.

b. While the water is coming to a boil, cut a piece of paper towel so that it is slightly larger than the bookplate.

c. When ready, dip the cut piece of paper towel into the boiling water on the plate, remove it and let it drain naturally.  Then quickly press it between another folded paper towel sheet to remove some of the excess water.  The dipped piece should remain pretty wet.

d. Place the steaming towel on top of the bookplate.

e. Place the wax paper on the opposite side and close the book.  The wax paper will protect the other pages from getting soaked unnecessarily.

f. Put some weight on the book.  I use two bricks.

g. Wait 5-10 minutes.

g. Take the bricks off.  Open the book and remove the wax paper and the wet paper towel.

h. Using the x-acto knife, gently pry up one of the corners of the bookplate.

i. Now using your micro-spatula, continue to gently pry up the bookplate.

j. If you encounter any resistance, don't force it.  Simply return a new hot towel over the bookplate, put the wax paper back, close the book and add the weight.  Wait a few more minutes, open the book and try again.  Eventually the the bookplate will come loose.

k. To avoid the bookplate curling up after (which they tend to want to do) place the bookplate into a clear sleeve or between some paper towel and add some weight for an hour or so.

How did it work for you?  I've used this method many times with great success.

A selection of different micro-spatulas

Some other things to note.  Coloured plates, especially ones with red dye, might bleed if too much moisture is applied.  It's a good idea to gently test them with a dab of water on a paper towel before starting the removal process.  Also, if the plate has been written on or stamped over, these inks also tend to blur with excess water applied to them, so remember start with less and work your way towards more.

You may want to practice on damaged bookplates before taking on your prized finds.  Just saying.

The magnifying glass comes in handy for spotting bookplate designer signatures and initials, which sometimes may be hard to spot or read clearly with the naked eye.

Well there it is.  I wish you the best of luck with your bookplate removing!

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Canadian Bookplate Research Resources - Part 1

WANTED! New Books on Canadian Bookplates

A recent email from a fellow Canadian collector has prompted me to post a short list of some Canadian bookplate research resources that should prove useful to novice collectors, as well as to those who may be experienced collectors but not familiar with sources focused on Canadian Ex Libris.  You will also undoubtedly quickly note that all of the publications listed below are rather dated.  This not only reflects the longevity of the hobby, but unfortunately, also its passing out of vogue many decades ago. It's a shame really, as there's so much to discover about Canada from these little literary works of art.  Anyway, From time to time I'll post additional lists, so if you know of any other sources out there please email me about them and I'll add them.  In meantime, enjoy tracking down these publications for your bookplate library if you do not already have them.


Colgate, William. The Bookplates of Leslie Victor Smith: Illustrated with Original Prints in Addition to a Full Checklist and Introduction. Weston, Ontario: Old Rectory Press, 1947. 32p, 13 ill, bibl, En.

After preliminary remarks on the history of bookplates with an emphasis on Canada, this catalog focuses on Smith’s creations in this field and includes a checklist of all of his bookplate creations dating from 1916-1946.  A list of exhibitions are followed by illustrations of examples of his work.

Howard, Sydney H. “William W. Alexander: A Canadian Engraver”, American Society of Bookplate Collectors and Designers. Yearbook 17 (1939), 15-22. En.

William Alexander’s engraved bookplates first attracted attention when, as a founding member in 1915 of the Society of Canadian Painter-Etchers and Engravers, he participated in the Society’s annual and traveling exhibitions.  Sketches and watercolours made on canoe trips in the north were translated into bookplates, but the artist always searched for motifs that reflected the character of the book owner.  The checklist of bookplates at the end of the article includes heraldic designs.

Jack, David Russell.  “Book-plates”, Acadiensis, vols. 1-6 (1901-1906). Many illus., En.

The author’s objective was to catalog all the Acadian bookplates he could find in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island.  The series of articles brought numerous responses, and the scope was broadened to include Acadian bookplates wherever they were found.  Over 70 bookplates of the 18th and 19th centuries were listed, described, and illustrated, however few engravers were identified.  The lists appear in Acadiensis as follows: 1 no 2 (Apr 1901) 48, 90-103; 1no 3 (July 1901) 113, 115-120; 1 no 4 (Oct 1901) 236-242; 2 no 2 (Apr 1902) 122-128; 2 no 3 (July 1902) 188-197; 2 no 4 (Oct 1902) 276-279; 3 no 1 (Jan 1903) 2, 65-66; 3 no 2 (Apr 1903) 129-134; 3 no 3 (July 1903) 236-240; 3 no 4 (Oct 1903) 308-311; 4 no 1 (Jan 1904) 84-86; 6 no 2 (Apr 1906) 123-129.

Macdonald, Thoreau. J.E.H. MacDonald Designs for Bookplates. Thornhill: Woodchuck Press, 1966.
Many Illus., En.

Compiled by the son of the subject, Thoreau MacDonald included beautiful monochrome illustrations of the bookplates designed by J.E.H. MacDonald for the Arts and Letters Club, Toronto; Hart House, University of Toronto; Dalhousie College Library, Halifax; Boysand Girls Library, Toronto; S.H. Hooke; Dr. J.M MacCallum; Paul Hahn; Isobel Nairn Robertson; Basil Morgan; Doris H. Mills; A.O. Brigden; E.E.Norwood; M.R. Norwood; J.W.Beatty; Joan MacDonald; and W.L.Grant.  Of additional interest, the Woodchuck Press was operated by Thoreau MacDonald from his Thornhill property.

Prescott, Winward ed. A List of Canadian Bookplates, With a Review of the History of Ex Libris in the Dominion. The Society of Bookplate Bibliophiles Publication No.4. Boston & Toronto: Printed for the Society of Bookplate Bibliophiles, 1919. 156p, 15 ill, En.

Compiled by Stanley Harrod and Morley J. Ayearst and illustrated with prints from the original copperplates and woodblocks, this book serves as the earliest known comprehensive study of Canadian bookplates.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The Bookplate Beneath - The London Collegiate Institute 1865

Lost souls

For Ex Libris collectors nothing brings a smile like the discovery of a second bookplate beneath the first.  Some of you reading this blog know exactly what I mean.  But then you also know that nothing brings an even bigger smile like the discovery of a third bookplate beneath a second.  Over the weekend I bought a couple of near-completely trashed old novels at an outdoor flea market for a few coins.  They were venerable library discards that had traded hands a few times, come under the ball point pen and the highlighter, and had obviously at some point been left outdoors to the elements – the books were warped, waterlogged, eaten, ripped, and even written in.  The guy selling them to me even raised an eyebrow a little when I said, “I’ll take these please”.  Whatever, he seemed happy to be rid of them and probably thought me to be either an eccentric or a sucker.  Little did he know I had no intention of keeping the volumes; I just wanted what appeared to be two bookplates pasted onto the front endpapers of each one.

A few hours later I was removing the library circulation stickers and hoping the bookplates beneath would be something more interesting, but they turned out to be an early period mass-produced ex libris that, thankfully, had been poorly pasted in with something aqueous.  Getting these plates off then revealed the unexpected treasure below:

Ex Libris - London Collegiate Institute 1865
The rather plain looking bookplate under the bookplates was designed for the London Collegiate Institute, Canada West, a school of general education for boys that was incorporated in the present day city of London, Ontario, on 18 September 1865.  Notes on its incorporation may be found in the record of the fourth session of the eighth parliament of Canada.  The founders of the college included the Venerable Isaac Hellmuth D.D., archdeacon of Huron, the Reverends Arthur Sweatman (who served as first Headmaster) and Henry Halpin, as well as Mr. Adam Crooks and Versacoil Cronyn.  I found this last name interesting for some reason, obviously not a name much in use these days unless you’re talking about train cars.

Exact information on the origins of the college building seen in photos remain somewhat obscure to this researcher, though some sources offer that the structure was eventually situated at Dufferin Avenue on the northwest corner of Waterloo Street in 1877.  Looking through the London Public Library Image Gallery archive online I found a few photos of the institute dated c.1890.  According to this same source, the building was later destroyed by fire on 22 April 1920, making me wonder how these books managed to survive its destruction.  Did the whole library make it out intact?  Or was this part of a small family of books out on loan, saved only due to the fact they were needed or desired at just the right time?  Perhaps they were previously culled and sold or given away.  Whatever the case may be, I could not find the bookplate catalogued in other collections I consulted nor is it listed in 'Canadian Bookplates' by Prescott (1919).

Rev. Arthur Sweatman c.1868
London Collegiate Institute c.1890
Whenever I come across something "not in Prescott" I get a bit excited, as it leaves me wondering what other ex libris are out there that might have also been overlooked by him.  I have observed so far that Canadian institutional ex Libris tend to be either very common or scarcer than one can possibly imagine.  In this case, given that the college was founded in the mid-nineteenth century when libraries were small, and then destroyed by fire at the beginning of the 20th century, I doubt many of its books or bookplates have survived into the 21st century.  Therefore all in all this was a great find for me, but I’ll probably let the extra bookplate go to the market to help finance other new acquisitions for my collection.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Ex Libris and Victoria Day Weekend

Every year Canadians mark the beginning of summer by officially celebrating Queen Victoria's birthday.  Why you may ask?  Well, for one thing it’s an official federal statutory holiday in honour of Canada’s reigning sovereign(s) that was first observed in the year 1845.  In fact in 1854, one account noted that nearly 5000 people gathered in front of Government House in Toronto to give cheers to their queen on her 35th birthday.  These days, however, most people would probably simply state that any excuse to have a long weekend is a good one.  Such is life, I suppose, and we can’t expect everyone to appreciate history the way it should be.

Anyway, the holiday got me thinking about Ex Libris and bookplates associated with Canada’s various sovereigns, their representatives, and other heads of state.  A quick Google search returned an image of Queen Victoria’s bookplate that was happily found on the website of the American Society of Bookplate Collector’s and Designers.  My searches for bookplates belonging to Governors General and other Canadian Prime Ministers, however, has been a bit less successful but there are still some interesting examples out there to observe and study.

Ex Libris - Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria (1819-1901)
Buckingham Palace Library by H Melville (1841)

Now I simply don’t know (yet) if every Canadian Prime Minister owned a bookplate, but indications suggest that it is very likely.  Certainly some of Canada’s earliest leaders had Ex Libris commissioned, such as this one belonging to the Right Honourable Sir John Caldwell Abbott (1821-1893), our third Prime Minister who held the office for just seventeen months between June 1891 and November 1892.

Rt Hon Sir John Caldwell Abbott (1821-1893)
The Ex Libris of the Rt Hon Sir John C. Abbott

This bookplate belonged to the Right Honourable Sir Robert Laird Borden (1854-1937), Canada’s eighth Prime Minister who served from October 1911 to July 1920.  A well-known figure both due to his role as Canada’s leader during the First World War as well as the fact that his face adorns the Canadian $100 banknote, both he and Abbott upheld the long established tradition of armorial ex Libris.

Rt Hon Sir Robert Laird Borden (1854-1937)
Ex Libris of the Rt Hon Robert L. Borden

Aside from Prime Ministers, Canada’s Governors General also typically had their own Ex Libris commissioned.  For a wonderful example, see the private library and bookplates of John Buchan (1875-1940), 1st Baron Tweedsmuir and Governor General of Canada from 1935 to 1940.  Buchan was a noted novelist and historian, as well as a prolific author of over 450 books and articles including his most well known novel, The Thirty Nine Steps.  Queen's University Library Special Collections currently holds The John Buchan Library and they have created an excellent website detailing its contents and scholarly research potential, as well as pics of various ex Libris and marks of ownership employed by him.  It is definitely worth checking out.

Governor General John Buchan (1875-1940)

Ex Libris John Buchan
Published by William Blackwood & Sons 1915

Needless to say this blog piqued my curiosity and I definitely need to do more research into Canadian regal and ministerial bookplates, but I hoped you enjoyed this little foray into Victoria Day Ex Libris.  And for those of you who get to celebrate this holiday with a day off of work, I wish you a happy long weekend.  I know I’ll certainly be off the blog and out enjoying the weather.  Be back soon.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Books That Make Me Really Happy

Most books I purchase bring me some sense of satisfaction, whether it’s the design, the contents, and sometimes, even just the weight.  Yes the weight.  Drop a Kindle on the floor and it sounds like four pennies fell out of your pocket.  Drop a copy of Peel's Bibliography of the Canadian Prairies to 1953 on the ground and, well, people know you mean business.  But I digress…

Every once in awhile I acquire a book that makes me really happy.  For example, a little while ago I obtained a copy of, Leonardo da Vinci: The Tragic Pursuit of Perfection, written by Antonina Vallentin and translated by E.W. Dickes (New York: Viking Press, 1938).  A decent early study of the great inventor’s life and achievements, this book made me happy because it came to me as a gift.  Then it made me really happy when I opened the cover to discover that it had previously been given to someone else as a gift as well, but many decades ago.  Evidence inside the front cover reveals that the book was originally a Christmas gift from Dr. Robert Charles Wallace CMG, Ph.D., FRSC (1881-1955) to his friend Mr. Thomas Gibson in 1938.  Born on the Orkney Islands of Scotland, Dr. Wallace came to Canada in 1912 where he later rose to prominence as a geologist, educator, and administrator.  While serving as the 11th Principal of Queen’s University at Kingston Ontario between the years 1936 and 1951, he also attracted controversy for his advocacy and support of various Canadian eugenics policies.

History within a history ... and an Italian roast coffee
Wallace employed what appears to be a calling card as his Ex Libris within the book that noted his name and official office 'Principle's House / Queen's University', inscribing upon it ‘with kind Christmas greetings’.  Overall, it's a great little piece of history offering provenance but some mystery about the book still remains.  While I know much about the man who gifted the book in 1938, I’ve yet to determine whom exactly the recipient of this gift was.  Perhaps some day I will figure this part out as well.  Still, thanks to these little inscriptions made by Dr. Wallace 73 years ago, I now have the enjoyment of knowing that the book was very likely happily received by others the same way as when it recently came to me.

Dr. Wallace's calling card / Ex Libris
The recipient - Thos. Gibson, Xmas 1938

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The Arts and Letters Club Toronto

Just a quick update today as I've got a bunch of other deadlines to attend to.  A bit more research on the Arts and Letters Club Ex Lbris I mentioned in yesterday's post on designs by Canadian Group of Seven artist J.E.H. MacDonald has revealed three different versions of this bookplate.  Though I have yet to put a date on them, I have found the plate inked in blue/purple, red/brown, and black.  If anyone knows why three different colours were used - perhaps a first, second, and third printing (?) - I'd be interested to know.  I think a quick email to the Club is in order....

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Bookplate Designer - J.E.H. MacDonald

J.E.H. MacDonald (1873-1932) is best known to Canadians as a member of the famous Group of Seven landscape artists as well as early patron of the renowned Arts and Letters Club of Toronto.  It is perhaps less well-known that in addition to his oil paintings he also designed a number of bookplates for both institutions as well as individuals.  Here are some of the better known examples of his work:


The Arts and Letters Club bookplate was designed for the club's small library, which also served as the site of the initial meeting and founding of the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour.  The ship motif reminds the readers of the sense of discovery that was a common bond in the Canadian arts and crafts movement during the early 20th century.  The second bookplate was designed for library at Hart House, University of Toronto.  Established in 1919 by Vincent Massey, soldier, diplomat, and later Governor-General, and named in honour of his grandfather, the small library at Hart House served a number of students and remains a beautiful place to visit in Toronto.  The bookplate shows an aerial view of Hart House and its inner quadrangle and gardens.

Hart House - University of Toronto

The next bookplate was designed for Dr. James MacCallum, a wealthy Toronto ophthalmologist and art collector who was both friend and patron to the Group of Seven, and who also financially supported the design and construction of the Studio Building in Toronto prior to the First World War.  MacCallum often invited members of the Group of Seven to his cottage located on the shores of Go Home Bay, where MacCallum pursued his love of sailing.  The pictorial in his bookplate is a nod to his cottage and his hobby.  The last bookplate was designed for William Lawson Grant, a member of the well-established Canadian financial family that pioneered chartered public banking in colonial Nova Scotia.  The borders of his bookplate pays homage to this tremendous Canadian family history.

The majority of the bookplates I've been able to attribute to J.E.H. MacDonald are pictorial, though some of his work includes heraldic or armorial accents.  To date I've identified 11 different bookplates designed by this artist, but I suspect there are others that I am simply not yet aware of.  I'm hoping to do a bit more research on his work over the summer when things quiet down a bit.  More to follow.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Bank Libraries and Ex Libris

Unlike other countries, Canada has had relatively few major financial banks in operation throughout its history, with many mergers taking place during the early 20th century.  Therefore Canadian bank bookplates tend to be uncommon, and to date I've only seen a few examples in various collections across the country.  Below are two examples, one pictorial and the other a simple label.

The Bank of Montreal was founded in 1817 placing it among Canada's oldest financial institutions.  It later merged with the Commercial Bank of Canada in 1868, as well as several others including the Molson Bank in 1925.  It was allowed to issue its own currency until the passing of the Bank of Canada Act in 1934.

The bank maintained a library at its head office in Montreal for many years.  The bookplate at left depicts the bank's head office located at Place d'Armes in Montreal, and was designed by Canadian artist Stanley Harrod (1881-1954), a notable illustrator of many prominent bookplates during the early 20th century.

The second bookplate is much more functional - a simple label for the Royal Bank of Canada likely created sometime between 1925 and 1945.

Today, the five main banks in Canada are the Toronto Dominion Bank, the Bank of Montreal, Scotia Bank, The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, and the Banque Nationale.  If anyone knows of any bookplates belonging to these other historical Canadian banks please get in touch, I'd love to hear about them!

The Thomas Murray Bookplate Collection at the University of British Columbia

In my first post I mentioned Winward Prescott's edited List of Canadian Bookplates published in 1919.  When first reading this book I was a bit disappointed at his opening comment, which said "a disgruntled collector once said that the only differences between Canadian and English bookplates were that the former were harder to get and less interesting when you got them."  Nothing could be further from the truth!

Canadian bookplates reveal a wide and interesting variety of traditional and modern designs.  Some of the best collections demonstrating the great depth of Canadian Ex Libris are held by various universities across the country.  for example, the University of British Columbia Library Special Collections Division holds the Thomas Murray Collection of Bookplates, an extensive gathering of nineteenth and early twentieth century Canadian ex Libris belonging to both prominent as well as lesser well-known Canadian individuals and institutions.

Thomas Murray (1878-1955) was born in Toronto.  Apprenticed as a tailor as early as 1890, he moved to Montreal around the turn of the century and continued working in the garment industry.  He operated his own manufacturing business from 1918 to 1928, amassing a small fortune which permitted him to retire at the age of fifty and to devote the rest of his life to his love of book collecting.  He first established the Bleury Book Store on Bleury Street, Montreal, Quebec, and then later opened another branch on St. Catherine Street in the same city.  He operated both stores until 1949, during which time he amassed a huge collection of bookplates.  This collection, organized into 11 volumes, was deposited with his other Canadiana at the University of British Columbia beginning in 1958.

Getting Hooked on Ex Libris

Like many people I've always loved reading and I've collected books ever since I was a kid.  Over the years my private library grew steadily, but for some reason I never took much notice of the many diverse bookplates adorning the volumes of my collection.  Then about a year ago, I obtained a small collection of books that contained a number of extremely interesting Ex Libris.  Suddenly I was intrigued to know who these books had belonged to before I had acquired them, and more importantly, who had created these wonderful little works of art that appeared in the front of so many of my books.  Soon, I was chasing down every possible reference I could find on Ex Libris, and happily discovered a huge new hobby where two of my favourite things, books and art, routinely crossed paths.  The rest, as they say, was history.

There are many great websites, blogs, and societies already devoted to the general subject of bookplates.  Sadly, however, there is neither a bookplate society nor any online source devoted to the study of Ex Libris in my home country of Canada.  And as far as I can tell, the last book published on Canadian bookplates appeared in 1919!  Compiled by Stanley Harrod and Morely J. Ayerst and edited by Winward Prescott, A List of Canadian Bookplates remains a critical reference for those interested in Canadian Ex Libris despite being rather outdated.  As well, its publication occurred prior to the period when Canadian bookplate design and usage fully matured.

The aim of this blog is therefore to promote the study and sharing of information on the Ex Libris history and design, and book and library history, while at the same time feeding my own addiction for collecting and researching the tales behind these wonderful little canvasses of library ownership.  I hope you enjoy this blog and I look forward to hearing your comments.

Kind regards,