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....

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