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.

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