Friday, August 19, 2016

Bookplates In The Rabbit Hole Part Two

More Bookplates In The Rabbit Hole

By Jeffrey Price
Fellow Collectors James Goode, Lew Jaffe and collector/dealer Tom Boss opened a gate to the wonderland of bookplates. How could I have not been aware of such a vast and rewarding field?  Why weren't names like E. D. French, Spenceley, and C. S. Junge familiar to me? The fact that this entire genre of prints was  'under-the-radar' was so fascinating to me that I immediately dove in to learning all I could and acquiring some prints. It certainly was challenging to figure out what areas I wanted to focus on when so many genres were appealing.
Engraved by A.N. Macdonald for Enrico Caruso

I soon discovered that there were at least three distinctly different types of prints in the ex libris world. The British had created armorial plates featuring family crests and insignias for hundreds of years. In Europe the majority of modern ex libris prints were actually editions of 'free graphics' and surrealistic etchings, always inscribed with a patron's name and interestingly often too large to ever be glued into a book.

Americans raised the art of ex libris to new heights with some of history's finest engravers and designers creating miniature works of consummate beauty and craftsmanship. These American Masters soon became the focus of my collecting, and I began to acquire prints, proofs, and vintage books by these artists.
Engraved by E.D. French , designed by Howard Pyle for The Yale Club
I thought a lot about the words ex libris' and 'bookplate.' Certainly, many of these prints could have been glued into books to identify ownership, but these prints were so much more than name-plates. Each print reflected the personality of the patron, the craft of the artist, and the history of the time in which it was created. I believe many of these prints were presented by their owners as gifts to friends and collectors. My collection of plates, however, was not in books; each print was treasured separately and many were destined to be on my walls in fine picture frames. I decided the name 'Personal Prints' was the most appropriate title for a collection of these prints. My hope is that name sticks and becomes part of the general vocabulary describing bookplates. These prints deserve more dignity and a greater presence in the world of art and I believe new nomenclature is a good place to start!

 After speaking to James Goode, Lew Jaffe and Tom Boss I discovered there were many appealing paths to explore in the Bookplate World. I began acquiring prints by famous artists or works commissioned by notable patrons. How exciting it was to discover that I could own a small print by Aubrey Beardsley, Winslow Homer and Maxfield Parrish, artists I had admired all my life! That enjoyment was multiplied by the fact that my art gallery features a world-class picture-framing workshop, and I was able to design frames for these works. 
Designed by Maxfield Parrish for Theodore Weicker

Designed by Aubrey Beardsley for John Henry Ashworth
 I learned that the usual way collectors organized their bookplates was to put them in albums or boxes in much the same way that stamps or baseball cards are stored. A lifetime of picture frame designing experience enabled me to create a gallery display of bookplates that was historical as well as down-right gorgeous.  The possibilities for creative design are endless and a well-designed frame will only enhance and never overpower its contents. Fortunately, many small personal prints have huge impact that balances a complex frame design. It was inevitable that I would collect far quicker than I could sell these prints, and the fact was that I wanted to keep much of what I acquired for my own collection anyway, so I decided rather than a typical gallery exhibit I would create a space in my gallery known as 'The Artists' Bookplate Museum.' Of course, unlike most museums, many of the works on the walls had price-tags along with their historical captions!
Designed by E.B. Bird and engraved by E.D. French

 One fortunate acquisition was a tattered 1911 edition of Freud's 'Interpretation of Dreams' with Charlie Chaplin's marvelous bookplate affixed to the inside of the front cover. The cover had separated from the book long ago, and that gave me the opportunity to frame the cover without committing the sin of destroying a historic book. I designed a frame with a hand-marbled-paper mat to surround the lovely view of Chaplin gazing at London with his trademark cane and shoes below and a theatrical mask above. Turning the frame over revealed the front of the book-cover with Freud's name and the title of his famous work. As a bonus, I commissioned Lynda Libby, a fine bookbinder from Washington State, to rebind the original book. Hanging in my gallery, I have no doubt that this little gem honoring Chaplin and Freud will be a great temptation to a future collector, especially considering that they can have Chaplin's personal copy of Freud's important book on their bookshelf while they enjoy a unique artwork on the wall.
Designed by Rob Wagner for Charlie  Chaplin

Another unique presentation was created for a spectacular hand-colored example of the Ohio print for the Manila Library by Hopson which was embellished with a beautiful remarque. This print was accompanied by the original booklet describing the commission and the symbolism of the various design elements. The booklet was beautiful as well as informative, so I designed a frame with a pocket on the outside of the glass to hold the information, which could be raised from the pocket by pulling on a Mylar tab. I was thrilled that the print and the booklet could both be elegantly displayed and fully studied. This one was only on my gallery's walls for a few weeks before one of my clients - a woman who had never collected a bookplate before - became enthralled with this treasure and bought it on the spot.


 I’ve continued to explore ways to combine the publication of a print with its creative process. I’ve designed frames that display an original printing plate by Carl Junge or Sarah Euginia Blake together with an example of their final print.



I have developed a frame  design using rare earth magnets that allow a small booklet to be shown off in a frame together with an associated print in such a way that the booklet can be easily removed from the frame for study. W. F. Hopson’s ‘Rowfantia’ proof and booklet was perfect for this cutting-edge frame.

 At its best, a framed bookplate should continue to tell the story of the artwork, combining the history of the era, the desires of the patron, and the artistic skill of the printmaker.

Jeffrey Price
Artists’ Bookplate Museum
at Artists’ Market
163 Main Street
Norwalk CT 06851
203-846-2550

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