Friday, June 19, 2009

On Collecting Wine Bookplates: A Newcomer's Confessions by Rae Fahlenius. Part I

Part I

I have been collecting wine books for 25 years, rather casually, but not without great enthusiasm. Besides general works on wine, I have many books dealing with wine from different specific aspects, such as viticulture and winemaking, grape varieties, corkscrews, wine in the art of painting, wine humour, history of wine, wine terminology or even the miserable wine louse (phylloxera).

Of course, I had come to browse through some of the books in the course of the years, but last summer I decided finally to begin to read them. Any wine enthusiast must, I suppose, knows how white, rosé and red wines differ. And still something more, for sure. I aimed also to write a catalogue of the books, to check up possible dedications, autographs and even bookplates.

My attitude about bookplates had earlier been quite indifferent, they did not seem too interest me. However, I had noted that there were bookplates in some of my books in my collection. Two or three years ago I even wrote to a well known London bookseller who specialized in books about wine. I asked him for information on a certain Mr. Edward Hale, whose wine bookplate I had found in quite a number of wine books in my collection. I had purchased these books from this bookseller over many years. A few of these books I found in Helsinki too. No information was been discovered on Mr. Hale, but other old wine books with the Hale bookplate were found and, some of them with covers slightly damaged. The bookseller asked me politely, if I would be willing to take them too. For some reason I replied yes, though I already had several of the titles without the Hale bookplate. In the bookplate can also be found the name of Mark Wickham in small letters, no doubt, this is the artist.

Later the bookseller said he found more wine bookplates among his books. Naturally, I took some of these as well. Actually, I was not interested in the bookplates as such. I was interested in the books, and the bookplates revealed that the volumes came from the libraries of famous wine writers, merchants and gastronomists. I think that the ex libris of a connoisseur adds to the value of a book, though not monetarily, but rather some value in a cultural context.

These bookplates were of the classical design of the early years of the 20th century. Among the well-known collectors of wine culture and literature was André L. Simon (1877-1970). His ex libris are highly prized among collectors and this bookplate was found in A Practical Treatise on the Cultivation of the Grape Vine on Open Walls, by Clement Hoare. London et al. 1837. 2nd Ed.

The bookplate of Charles W. Berry reflects a wine theme depicting a hot-air balloon above London. Berry was a famous wine seller and writer living in London with a favourite pastime of hot air ballooning. In the bookplate the clock tower of St. James’s Palace is pictured on St. James’s Street was located the wine shop of Berry Bros & Rudd. However, it seems very unlikely that Berry ever flew his balloon over this part of the city. St. James’s Street has some other associations with wine too. H. Warner Allen wrote a book about the Berry family as wine merchants entitled Number Three Saint James’s Street, and a magazine published by the Berry’s had the same title. The wine shop of Justerini & Brooks is also located in St. James Street as well as the Hugh Johnson Collection, a specialist in wine accessories. Christie’s had their auctions and they still have a wine shop in King Street, which joins St. James’s Street farther away. I have the Berry bookplate in a book entitled The Blood of the Grape – the wine trade text book by André L. Simon (London: Duckworth & Co, 1920).

The bookplate of the famous Swedish gastronomist, Tore Wretman (1916-2003), depicts a man reading a menu at the door of a restaurant. The bookplate of Wretman is marking the ownership of a volume entitled Eloge de L’ivresse. This was written by a pseudonym Albert H. Sallengre and published in Paris about 1850.

In those days I discovered my first Finnish wine bookplate in an antiquarian bookshop in Helsinki. It was a simple ex libris depicting a bunch of grapes from Juhani Jaskari, who was a distinguished translator. In the book there was also the autograph of Mr. Jaskari, dated in 1955 in Beaune, the wine capital of Burgundy. The book is Bourgogne Tastevin en Main by Georges Rozet, an interesting book to wine bibliophiles. It received the first Chevalier de Tastevin award in 1949.

Actually, it was the bookplates of Simon, Berry, Hale, Wretman and Jaskari that aroused my interest in collecting wine bookplates since the late summer of 2002. I had some background information on all the men, except Edward Hale. He was unknown to me, and yet, I had more than 20 books originating from his library. I imagine that his library of wine books must have been very extensive.

When I started collecting wine ex libris last autumn, I also looked for all the books, exhibition catalogues and articles available on the subject. I thought there would only be a few and that I would find new items occasionally over the years to come. After all, I already had the experience of 25 years collecting wine books in many languages. In that time, I had found only a few wine ex libris, and just one belonging to a Finnish collector. Of course, this perception was to turn out completely false. I had not learned that a great number of ex libris are in fact loose, and available only through exchange.


  1. Congratulations and best wishes on your new bookplate blog.
    Lew Jaffe

  2. I think bookplates typically bear a name, motto, device, coat-of-arms, crest, badge, or any motif that relates to the owner of the book, or is requested by him from the artist or designer.