Sunday 28 October 2012

The Bookplate of Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine

Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine (1807-1864) 
It's been a rather busy year for me, and always the hobbies must come last.  That said, however, there's nothing like a cold rainy Sunday in October to create some downtime for casual collecting and research.

One area of my bookplate collection that has been growing nicely lately is my section on Canadian political leaders.  Fortunately, many of these men were originally merchants, lawyers, doctors, businessmen or similar professionals, which meant that they often had reference libraries and thus a tendency to have bookplates made for themselves.  One that I recently acquired from Tomas G. Boss Fine Books was a bookplate for the great Canadian politician Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine.

Sir Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine, 1st Baronet, KCMG, was the first Canadian to become Prime Minister of the United Province of Canada and the first head of a responsible government in Canada.  Born in Boucherville, Lower Canada in 1807, he was a jurist and statesman, being first elected to the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada in 1830. He was a political supporter of Louis Papineau and member of the Parti canadien. After the severe consequences of the Rebellions of 1837 against the British authorities, Lafontaine advocated political reforms within the new Union regime of 1841.  He has been immortalized in statue more than once, and is perhaps one of the most significant political figures in early Canadian history.

Lafontaine's bookplate
Lafontaine lived, worked, and acquired books for his library at at time when, according to Prescott's study on Canadian bookplates, "the most tiresome and inartistic style, the die sink armorial, was popular in England."  Prescott also suggested that there were practically no pictorial plates produced in Canada for book owners during this period but as my own collection continues to grow I would begin to argue that his assessment may have been incorrect.

Lafontaine's bookplate is a classic example of an early nineteenth century die-sunk Canadian pictorial label.  It is possible he chose a pictorial rather than an armorial de-sink simply as a reflection of the mood of the period - in post-revolutionary France any references to royalty and heraldry were out, even on bookplates (see Walter Hamilton's book on French bookplates for more detail on this trend). Nevertheless, it is a very attractive plate for its age and it does stand out nicely against my other Canadian political armorial ex libris.

I'm always on the look out for other Canadian bookplates like these, so if you have something you want to part with don't hesitate to get in touch.  Until next time....

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