Saturday, January 30, 2016

Bookplates As Art Parts Two and Three

Bookplates as Art   Parts Two and Three

By Mark Witteveen

Walter Helfenbein (German) for Erich Dorschfeldt (1922).

A prolific bookplate artist, Helfenbein did a series of mementos mori for Erich Dorschfeldt; several, like these two (above and below) seem to be possibly inspired by the desert exploits of T.E. Lawrence. aka Lawrence of Arabia. WWI again. Attacking trains, and Death as companion, riding by your side. “Some of the evil of my tale may have been inherent in our circumstances,” Lawrence writes in his bio-tale of the war, Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Arthur Henne for R. Osswald (ca 1930)

Great books threatening destruction, annihilation. This Henne scene, like Melville’s White Whale, is ripe for an analysis of its symbols. The imagery is specific, yet generalized too, so the scene is able to withstand numerous interpretations. Take your pick: the rule of law, the oppressive rule of law, or enlightenment (like the Gilsi bookplate earlier), to name a few. I don’t know if Henne had specific books in mind, but I appreciate that he used two. It keeps the scene secular, and avoids the apocalyptic. (Okay sure, it’s apocalyptic for them.)

Bruno Heroux (German) for Hans Harrassowitz (ca 1929).

Amazingly, the Harrassowitz firm, booksellers, is still in existence today. They specialize in supplying American universities (Harvard, U. of Chicago) with scholarly and antiquarian books from Europe. Heroux illustrates this trade nicely in the plate: the naked messenger, with Wisdom (the Owl) at his feet, and arm outstretched, book in hand reaching across the sea to deliver it to America (the Statue of Liberty).

Georg Oskar Erler (German) for Dr. Willy Tropp, (1920).

Like other graphic artists of the time, Georg Erler was a worker, executing thousands of pay-for-hire graphic jobs: birthday cards, New Year greetings, etc. He also did a series of bookplates with a nude woman in scenes with satyrs/devils, Death, and men. This is one from the series: startling, immediate, alive with tension. What is on the satyr’s face? Frustration? Defeat? Resignation? Lust? What’s the woman’s attitude? Impossible to know - it’s hidden behind the hat, and in the mind of the viewer. Erler gets high marks for setting his scene in media res.

Sepp Frank
Sepp Frank (German) for Dr. S.B. Guggenheim (ca 1920). The early 1900s were a fertile garden for the occult and various esoteric philosophies and practices. Ideas and symbols from these found their way into bookplates; the designs can be appealing, even when the meaning is lost, or frustratingly obscure.

Sepp Frank was a successful representative of this trend, I think. His highly dramatic bookplates are always worth a look. There is much to admire in them, even when the meaning is not easily decipherable. Here, a sun-blazing Omega projects the long shadow of Death for an elegant human standing center stage in Life’s arena. (another memento mori)

Georg Gelbke (German) for Walter and Margarite Vogel (1923).

A Vogel, in German, ein Vogel, is a bird. Die Nacht Vogel weckt herzlich zu Kaffee und Skandal. The night bird wakes cordially to coffee and scandal. Gelbke plays with the couple’s surname, and off they go flying in the air. The size of the script ‘Vogel’ reinforces the playful design.

Walter Rehn (German) for Hanns Heeren (1923). This Rehn bookplate has the lessons of Van Gogh. Recall Night Cafe. In one of his letters to his brother Theo, Vincent writes, “I am trying to exaggerate the essential but leave the obvious things vague.”

In Rehn’s bookplate, a mere candle sets the room ablaze with light, contrasted with the lack of detail elsewhere. The man holding the candle, for instance -- any child of five could draw his legs with a stubby pencil. Rehn sets the scene: the man has been startled awake in his bed by strange noises. Hesitant with fear, he dons a robe, lights a candle and dread in his heart, sets out to investigate. What could be more comforting to a homeowner, or more delightful to a lover of books, than to discover three giant ghosts enjoying the treasures of your own library?

Mark Witteveen, 2015
Interested in early 20th century bookplates/ex libris
For purchase or exchange of duplicates

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Bookplates As Art

Bookplates as Art   Part One of Three
by Mark Witteveen

I collect bookplates as art. European pieces primarily, from the early 20th century prior to the rise of the National Socialists. Many of these bookplates are cultural artifacts. Charged with emotion, full of meaning, they come to us with complex legacies through the murderous upheavals and triumphs of the last century. By turns, on their own or through the sharpening lens of hindsight, they can entertain, enthrall, and disturb all the while vibrating with a strong pulse, like good theater. Or they can explode like a firecracker.

Representational imagery in bookplates really flourishes after 1900. I’m strolling along a dark corridor with a flashlight scanning the walls, and I discover I’m not in a corridor at all but a vast museum of connecting rooms where thousands of small pictures hang upon the walls.

Also from this time, with great appeal, narrative appears. We see bookplates with commentary on the human condition, personal stories and insights, hobbies, sports, the Arts, humor, playfulness, frivolity, reactions to world events, and more. Made by incredibly talented artists. And I remind myself that most bookplates were commissions. So not only did artist and occasion have to meet, he or she had to wrangle with a client. No doubt that negotiation varied, but what was a typical arrangement? Imagining one scenario, I picture Walter Helfenbein with one of his risqué bookplates wrought fresh for a client, who upon seeing it, retreats a quick step and says, “Ahhh yeah, no thanks pal.”

Fritz Gilsi (Swiss) for Alfred Kaufmann, (ca 1923) shows progress/enlightenment, in the form of a naked woman wielding a torch, and arriving in an open book, scattering the masses.

The design is richly associative; provocative without being confrontational, and completely lacking in sentiment. Note the pilgrim hat and the woman fleeing, her hands over her face. I recall Dostoevsky’s comment in one of his notebooks: “The European enlightenment is more important than people.” Gilsi’s bookplate seems as relevant to America today as it did in Europe, circa 1923.

Mileva Roller (Austrian) for Helen Anderle (1912). At a glance, many people could pinpoint the origins of this image: Wiener Werkstatte, early 1900s. Sure, it’s of the era.

What of the artist, Mileva Roller? In doing a little research, one finds more references to her beauty than to her artistic efforts. There doesn’t seem to be much of her stuff around. Was she not very productive? Merely derivative? Not encouraged? So many questions. To what extent did she achieve recognition, outside of her obvious association with famous male artists of the era -- her husband Alfred Roller, Solomon Moser, Gustav Klimt. What’s her story?

Fritz Schwimbeck for Dr. Arthur Ludwig (1912).

Look at those etched lines. That’s a steady hand. A setting sun, and the light still reaches out to touch every boulder, to invade every nook, as if to lay claim. Then the approaching night and tailgating gloom; you can almost feel its fur against your face.

Heinrich Seufferheld (German) for Dr. Med. A W. Pietzcker (1915).
Skeletal Death is a frequent actor in medical bookplates. Vengeful, predatory. Lurking close. In this Seufferheld bookplate, however, its treatment is unique. Maybe I’ve made up a storyline, but I’m going with it. Death is the one in trouble here. The struggle is past and the patient has proved the stronger. She has won this battle. In her tender care for the actor Death, we see its grim touch in her embrace, the taste is in her mouth, its stench fills her nostrils. This closeness, this ‘brush with death’, has given her foresight, so she takes pity. No one claims victory over Death. Time will take its toll; she won’t always be strong; someday, as certainly as night follows dusk follows day, their positions will be reversed. She is pleading mercy for her own gentle end.

Arthur Paunzen (Austrian) for Th. Alexander (1917). The still-raging horrors of WWI are in this Paunzen bookplate. Small details are telling: a simple home, beside it a lone figure tries to work peacefully at a table; and the curve of the ground, suggesting not that Death is tramping across an isolated farmer’s field, but stalking the globe.
A further note on the artist: as noted on, in 1938, “Paunzen fled Nazi Austria for England with 504 drawings and graphics and one violin.”  He died two years later on the Isle of Man, interned in a prison camp there by the British. I mention these facts and the website for those wanting to learn more about the artist, and to encourage collectors with Paunzen art to consider contacting the research team on the website, led by Gregory Hahn, Pd.D., who are compiling a Catalogue raisonné of the artist’s work. 

Richard Lux (Austrian) for Martha Winter (1934).

A shimmery emotive quality to this scene by Richard Lux. Sometimes I look at bookplate scene and wonder, “How does this relate to its owner?” (Martha Winter, in this example below.) Did she visit the artist’s studio and choose from his existing works, ‘Yeah, make me that one please.’ Or was Lux given free reign and he found inspiration in her personal history.
        To Be Continued
Mark Witteveen

Interested in early 20th century bookplates/ex libris
For purchase or exchange of duplicates

Thursday, January 14, 2016

My Tenth Year of Blogging Has Begun

I never fully realized how  addictive my computer had become until it went through a mid life crisis earlier this week at the same time  that the neighborhood  computer  guru left for a ten day trip to California..
In any event I am  getting back on track now and playing catch up.

Here are some odds and ends that  have piled up.

Fellow collector/dealer Gabe Konrad bought a large number of bookplate reference books and is in the process of printing a catalog.
Cover of Catalog
If you'd like to receive a copy of this print catalog, please email him at or call (231) 652-2665.

Bay Leaf Used & Rare Books, ABAA/ILAB/IOBA
Gabe and Melanie Konrád
79 State Rd. (M-37)
Newaygo, MI 49337

Mystery Leather Bookplate

This is one of the nicest leather bookplates I have ever had.
I no nothing about the owner nor the country he lived in.
Any input would be appreciated.

The Wonders of The Internet
One of my favorite bookplate artists is Frances Delehanty.Several years ago Richard Schimmelpfeng and I collaborated on a check list of her bookplates .

This email arrived recently :

Hello Lew,
My name is David Hildt, and Frances W. Delehanty was my great aunt. I came across your blog after googling FWD, and I was amazed to see your collection of bookplates which she created. I am sending you a copy of the only one in my possession. It is one she made for her younger brother, Thornton Augustin Washington Delehanty, who was also the brother of my grandfather, John Bradley Delehanty.
 Our family history hasn't been kept up very well in that last few decades, so your collection has enriched our heritage.

Thank you!
David Hildt

A collector who has 80,000 magazines.

This has nothing to do with bookplates but extreme collectors fascinate me.

Mineralogy Related Bookplates 

Fellow Collector Larry Conklin has published his excellent article about mineralogy and bookplates.Here is a link: