Friday 30 September 2011

American Bookplates by Charles Dexter Allen

Published in 1894
In any collecting hobby time spent on research is seldom wasted.  And though the pile of bookplates and other paper ephemera sitting on my study desk yet to be catalogued grows steadily higher, for the past little while I've been putting more effort into building my ex libris reference library.  The latest addition to the shelf is a beautiful limited edition copy of Charles Dexter Allen's 'American Book-Plates: A Guide to their Study with Examples'.  Originally published in the 1890s, Allen's book has long served as a catalogue reference for collectors of American ex-libris, and anyone who is seriously collecting bookplates, especially American bookplates, will want to obtain a copy of this book for their own libraries.

This was an acquisition for the private library I could hardly resist.  Only 75 copies of the limited edition were produced, printed on Japanese vellum throughout.  Already lavishly illustrated throughout, the inclusion of 41 full page bookplates printed from the original coppers - including no less than 12 bookplates designed by Edwin Davis French - simply makes this tome a must have for serious collectors.

Having compared it to some other volumes in my library, at 437 pages this work was also perhaps one of the most detailed studies of the hobby at the turn of the century.  In addition to the annotated catalogue which forms the nucleus of the text, the author included extensive notes on the evolution of bookplates in America, capsule biographies of collectors of the day and their collections, details about various bookplate societies, as well as an extensive reference bibliography covering American, British, French, and German sources.  Hardly surprising, there are only a handful of Canadian bookplates included in the catalogue or the the references, but still even this small amount of information may later prove helpful to other research.

As September turns over the reigns to October, here in Canada the weather begins to chill and the days grow substantially shorter.  While I'll miss the long lazy summer days, I suppose there'll be more evenings indoors to spend on chasing the elusive histories of bookplates.  Allen's volume is a welcome friend in that happy pursuit.

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