Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Architecture in Ex Libris III

The turn of the century and a few decades following was a time of great popularity for bookplates. Anyone who had a bookcase full of books felt he or she needed a bookplate as did many who had hardly any books at all, as a nice bookplate became a harmless method of showing off a little. Amongst the wealthier classes in Britain (with even a few wealthy Americans and Canadians), a popular type of bookplate was meticulously engraved with almost photographic accuracy to show not only the houses, but the grounds, pets, and other possessions of the well-heeled customers who flocked to Mr. W. P. Barrett of Bumpus – London’s finest book shop at the period. The bookplates were engraved by contract engravers working in their own premises, but it was Barrett to whom they looked for their work, and it was he who visited the clients and planned the work in great detail. These bookplates were expensive and had limited appeal, but Barrett was patronized by the Royal Family, and so by most of the wealthier people of the time, and these bookplates encapsulate a style of house and garden, then at its zenith, but soon to be outmoded by problems left by the First World War. One rather elegant manner of boasting in a Barrett style plate was what might be termed the ‘talkative footman’ style, in which the owner tried to cram into a ‘house plate’ some reference to his (it was generally a man) expensive school and college and/or his expensive hobbies, such as shooting, hunting, and so on. Ladies would be more likely to include a picture of an adored dog or cat. Other harmless bits of ‘show off’ in the house plates of successful entrepreneurs might be the casual inclusion of a piece of classical sculpture or a mostly unread library. As we look at them today, bookplates such as these, can tell much about the lifestyle and the foibles of the owners as well as about their houses.

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