University of Rochester Library Bulletin: The Louis J. Bailey Bookplate Collection

Volume XV · Winter 1960 · Number 2
The Louis J. Bailey Bookplate Collection


In December, 1959, a gift of unusual value was received by the University Library, and added to its many special collections. Louis Jonathan Bailey, Class of 1905, who has in recent years given us many books from his private library, presented us with his bookplate collection and all the books, periodicals, and pamphlets relating to bookplates, which he has been accumulating over a long period of years. It is a large collection, numbering over thirteen thousand plates, and the bookplate literature comprises over six hundred volumes.

Mr. Bailey has had a long and distinguished career as a librarian. After graduating from the University of Rochester in 1905, he attended the New York State Library School at Albany, receiving his library science degree two years later. He worked for a time in the New York State Library and in the Copyright Division of the Library of Congress. In 1908, he became librarian of the Public Library of Gary, Indiana. During his fourteen years there he developed a system of cooperation between the public library and the public schools which was highly successful, and which was widely copied. For four years he was librarian of the Public Library of Flint, Michigan, and, in 1926, he returned to Indiana to become Director of the State Library at Indianapolis. His experience and success in planning the new building for that institution gave him the reputation of an authority on library buildings, and he has since been consulted by agencies engaged in planning government libraries. In 1936, Mr. Bailey was appointed Chief Librarian of the Queens Borough Public Library, and remained in that position until his retirement on January 1, 1954. With his wide professional experience and administrative ability, he was able during those eighteen years to guide the Queens Borough Library through a period of great expansion: thirteen new libraries were opened; eight branches and the main library, greatly enlarged; the book stock was nearly doubled, and the annual budget was nearly tripled. In the fastest growing borough of New York City, he was able to provide expanding library service to meet its needs.

Besides being a library administrator of marked ability, Mr. Bailey has, in his leisure hours, accumulated a fine personal library and a collection of bookplates which reflect the taste of a true bibliophile. His Thomas Hardy collection, numbering some two hundred fifty volumes and a few manuscripts, came to us as a gift early in 1953, and a small group of Thomas Bailey Aldrich first editions came to us a few months later. His bookplate collection, which represents almost a half-century of thought and effort, reflects his love of books, his love of people, and his appreciation of the various forms of graphic art which are used in the design and production of these marks of book ownership. With the true librarian's love of order, Mr. Bailey has mounted each plate, annotated it, catalogued and classified it, and presented it to us in adequate storage facilities. It is a rare occasion indeed when a library receives a gift so well organized and housed that its acquisition involves little effort and expense to make the material available to its patrons.

Although bookplates have been in use since the middle of the fifteenth century, bookplate collecting as a hobby is not old. It became popular in England and on the Continent in the latter part of the nineteenth century, and by the turn of the century many large and notable collections had been assembled. In the United States it developed somewhat later and more slowly. Ex Libris societies, a certain indication of a fairly widespread and recognized interest, were formed in England and Germany in 1891, and in France in 1893. Although there were earlier organizations in the United States, the first of any size and widespread membership was The American Bookplate Society, organized in 1913 and active until some time during the nineteen-twenties. Mr. Bailey became a member of this society in 1919. In 1922, another organization, The American Society of Bookplate Collectors and Designers, was organized in Washington. This society is still active, has a membership of over two hundred, and publishes a most attractive yearbook, which is itself a collector's item. Bookplate literature, that is, books describing periods and styles, artists and methods, began to appear about 1875. In Germany, Karl Emich, Graf zu LeiningenWesterburg, published Deutsche und Oesterreichische Bibliothekzeichen Exlibris; in France, Auguste Poulet-Malassis issued Les Ex-Libris Français. John Byrne Warren's A Guide to the Study of Book-Plates, London, 1880, was the first major work in the English language for the collector or connoisseur. Charles Dexter Allen's American Book Plates, first published in New York and London in 1894, was the first major work on the subject. These four volumes are still highly regarded, and looked upon as essential tools for the collector.

Bookplate collections in both public and private hands follow a variety of patterns, and reflect the interests and tastes of the collectors, as any hobby does. Many specialize in armorial plates, the earliest form known, and one still widely used. Others are interested only in pictorial plates, or plates designed for children, bookplates of noted artists, of famous authors, or owners of some renown. Plates with ship and marine designs, etched and engraved plates, linoleum cuts, or plates of a particular style, period, or country form the basis of other collections. Mr. Bailey's collection, as one might expect, shows a strong emphasis on plates designed by American artists, yet it is a fairly comprehensive one. Representative plates from the various periods and styles, and by the outstanding artists of Canada and Latin America, England and the Continent, Japan, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa are included in the gift.

To give an adequate description of the entire Bailey collection is the work of an expert, and that I am not. A listing and brief description of some of the plates which have been designed by outstanding artists, or which have some peculiar significance to the collector as well as the neophyte, may serve to give the reader some conception of the breadth, completeness, and artistic appeal of the collection as a whole.

American bookplates represent approximately one-half of the entire collection. Their use was first introduced into the colonies about the middle of the eighteenth century, and the Bailey collection has an assortment of examples of this early period. Southern gentlemen used bookplates more widely than northerners in the colonial era, but for the most part their plates were designed and executed in England. In the North and the middle colonies native artists were more commonly employed. Nathaniel Hurd, born in Boston in 1730, was one of the best of our early bookplate engravers. An accomplished goldsmith, and an engraver in gold, silver, copper, brass, and steel, his work was highly regarded in the Bay Colony, and many examples of his designs remain. The Bailey collection has copies of plates made by him for Harvard College Library, Robert Jenkins, John Lowell, Thomas Palmer, Ezekiel Price, and Nathaniel Tracey. They are all armorial in design, and in the so-called Jacobean and Chippendale styles, following the prevailing trends in England.

In New York City and environs during the later years of the eighteenth century, perhaps the most popular engraver was Peter Rushton Maverick. A native of England, he came to New York City about 1774. He appears to have been an energetic worker and a more prolific designer of bookplates than Nathaniel Hurd. Of the numerous examples of his work which Mr. Bailey has accumulated, mention will be made of only two. The plate of DeWitt Clinton, an armorial design, represents a trend which followed closely upon the Jacobean and Chippendale styles. This is executed in what is known as the "ribbon and wreath" style, which is somewhat simpler and less assuming than the more elaborate plates of the Chippendale period. The plate consists of a heart-shaped shield set in a festoon of flowers, beneath which is a ribbon on which is engraved Governor Clinton's motto: Patria Gara Carior Libertas, and below that, his name. Another Maverick plate of considerable interest is that designed by him for the New York Society Library. Actually, he drew two designs, both based on the same theme, which is an allegorical one. In the more elaborate of the two, Minerva is represented as having just alighted from the clouds, with an Indian waiting to receive the volume which she holds out to him. He, in turn, offers his tomahawk in exchange. Behind the two figures appear the well-filled shelves of the library, in the gable of which is engraved the motto Emollit Mores (She civilizes). The entire scene is upheld by a ribbon and surrounded by festoons. It is dated 1789, and signed by Maverick.

The popularity of bookplates declined somewhat during the early part of the nineteenth century, but interest in their production and use was revived toward the middle and later years. The list of American artists engaged in designing and engraving bookplates since the eighteen-seventies is a lengthy one, and includes the names of many persons famous for their work in painting and drawing, architecture, book illustration, etching and engraving, or in lines of endeavor quite different from these branches of the fine arts. It is in this later period that the Bailey collection is particularly strong. One can find admirable plates designed by such eminent engravers as Ralph Pearson, Edwin Davis French, John William Jameson, and Rockwell Kent; by type designers Frederick W. Goudy, Bruce Rogers, and William A. Dwiggins; by the Rochester architect Claude Bragdon; by illustrators Margaret Ely Webb, Norman Kent, and Howard Pyle. To name them all would be an overwhelming task, and to indicate the finest examples of the bookplate artists of the United States which may be found in the Bailey collection would be equally difficult. There are plates of every type, style, and medium, plates of individuals of note, of societies and libraries, and plates designed for special collections in both public and private hands.

Canadian and Latin-American plates form a small but interesting part of the collection. Among the Canadian plates is a representative group designed by the versatile and talented Toronto engraver William Walker Alexander. He has designed well over forty plates, of which Mr. Bailey has collected twenty. Most of them are copper engravings; others, lithographs and photo-line engravings. Among the best known of his armorial plates are the seven he designed for members of the family of Sir John Craig Eaton. Four of these are represented in the collection. There are also a number of pictorial plates of great delicacy and beauty. Of the Latin-American plates, perhaps the most striking are those whose motifs are taken from the art of the early South American Indians or from native scenery. The use of color is much more common, even on the plates with heraldic designs, and the plates are more commonly reproduced by lithography and printing processes than by engraving.

English bookplates form the second largest group in Mr. Bailey's collection. He has been successful in gathering examples of all the various styles and periods through which the art of bookplate designing has passed down through the years in the British Isles. Armorial plates engraved on copper and steel were used almost exclusively until the close of the eighteenth century, and continued to be popular even into the early years of the twentieth. They were at first designed in what is known as the Jacobean style, which has been described by the historian, John Byrne Leicester Warren, as a "formal, and no doubt conventional style of decoration. It is more remarkable perhaps for its solidity than its gracefulness. . . If not actually lovely, they are seldom in bad taste."

This was followed after the middle of the eighteenth century by a more elaborately decorated plate, the style of which is known as Chippendale. In this the shield or escutcheon is seldom regular in form, being sometimes oblique, or pear-shaped, and completely surrounded by a profusion of shell-work, upholstery, and free flowers. Out of the Jacobean style, and more or less contemporaneously with the Chippendale style of armorial plate, there developed a new type of plate which had an allegoric motif. This was inspired by the prevailing fashion in France, was not essentially British, and never as widely adopted as other styles. There were, however, several noteworthy plates designed in the allegoric style by such eminent artists as William Hogarth, George Vertue, and John Pine. Toward the close of the eighteenth century another style came into vogue—that introduced by Thomas Bewick, who used wood engravings and landscape motifs in the more than seventy bookplates which he is known to have designed. The twentieth century has seen the development of new styles and techniques, following quite closely the trends in other branches of the graphic arts.

A selection at random of some of the English bookplates in the Bailey collection may give some idea of its scope. There is a William Hogarth allegoric plate designed for George Lambart. The plate designed for David Garrick by John Wood about 1760 contains his name engraved upon a cartouche, around which are engraved the various emblems of the stage: the mask of comedy, bauble of the fool, the lyre of poetry, the goblet, crown, sceptre, and sword. The whole is surmounted by a bust of Shakespeare, and a motto, chosen from the works of Gilles Ménage, is engraved below. There is one of the rarest of Thomas Bewick's plates, that designed by him for Matthew Anderson, with a view of the River Tyne, and the town of Newcastle in the distance. There are several plates designed by Gordon Craig, including the one made for his mother, Ellen Terry. Two very delightful wood engravings made by Eric Gill, one for Alphonse Montague Summers and the other for the Decoy Press, are illustrative of the better plates of the nineteen-twenties.

There are over twenty-five copper-plate engravings designed by the Australian Gayfield Shaw, many of them signed proofs. Among the South African plates should be mentioned two charming colored wood engravings drawn by Joachim Voigts. Among the contemporary German artists represented is Fritz Bötel, over sixty of whose designs are included. Of these, three were designed for Mr. Bailey himself, one for Robert Metzdorf, a former member of our staff, and one for Mary Oemisch, a present member of our staff. Austrian artists represented include Marie Klimbacher and Rose Reinhold, both of whom issued delicately hand-colored woodcuts of great daintiness and charm. Among the Hungarian plates are those of Gyorgy Buday, engraved in wood and reproduced in black and white, and of Endre Vadascz, whose colored etchings are particularly lovely. The Japanese bookplates in the collection have all the delicacy and artistic appeal which one usually associates with larger Japanese wood blocks. There are, among others, nineteen plates designed by Eiichi Hirose and seven made either by, or for, Shoji Kozuka, a Japanese bookplate collector and artist.

Mr. Bailey's collection of bookplate literature is almost as comprehensive in its coverage as the plates themselves. Mention was made above of the first guides for the bookplate collector published in Europe and America in the last years of the nineteenth century. These are included in the library which he has given us, together with many volumes which have appeared since on all the various phases of designing, producing, and collecting, on the work of specific artists, or on the development in various geographic areas. Of particular interest are the portfolios of plates of contemporary artists, with signed proofs of the numerous plates mounted therein. Bookplate collectors' societies have been founded in all the major countries, and their serial publications are well represented in Mr. Bailey's library: The Journal of the Ex-Libris Society (England), Archives de la Société Française des Collectionneurs d'ExLibris, Nordisk Exlibris Tidsskrift, A Arte do Ex-Libris (Associacão Portuense de Ex-Libris), Yearbook of the American Society of Bookplate Collectors and Designers, and a number of others. One cannot but be impressed by the fact that, with few exceptions, the literature of the field is as eye-appealing as the plates themselves. The format and typography appeal to the artist and the bibliophile alike, and most of the books are illustrated with excellent reproductions, or actual copies of bookplates tipped in.

The February display in the foyer of Rush Rhees Library was drawn entirely from the Bailey collection. Bookplate literature and portfolios were used to fill the wall cases, and some of the finest examples of the plates themselves were arranged in the remaining cases at the rear of the lobby. It has been many years since we have had such a display, and seldom have we had such a wealth of material to draw upon.

We have had a bookplate collection in Rush Rhees Library for a number of years. In the fall of 1939, Mrs. Donald B. Gilchrist and her son David presented to us the collection made by Mr. Gilchrist, Librarian of the University from 1919 until 1939. Shortly thereafter we received as a gift the fine collection of Miss Maude Motley, of Rochester. To these two there have been added many thousands of specimens by gift and exchange during the past twenty years. Mr. Bailey's gift will more than double the size of our holdings and enrich them with innumerable items which we might not otherwise have obtained. For his great generosity in placing it in our hands, we are sincerely and deeply grateful.