An extensive article by Anthony Pincott entitled Identifying English bookplates. At 33 pages it takes up a significant portion of the 80 page publication and will be the sole article I write about today. It talks about the different ways to find out information on the previous owner of a book through their bookplate. Many a time I've come across a bookplate whose owner was not easily identifiable and despite my best efforts I was required to move on. I found it interesting to read about the extensive detective work that goes into researching a bookplate properly.
After an overview the article goes into case studies of different bookplates. Going through the motions of how they were researched and at each stage what information was found out.
I got a little lost early on at the reference to Papworth, but a quick look at the appendix showed me that it was Papworth's Ordinary of Arms. Another useful resource I had not yet come across. In fact the appendix is a veritable treasure trove of resources to the uninitiated, with perhaps a few nuggets for the veteran as well. It includes resources like Franks Catalogue, an invaluable bookplate resource that has been scanned and uploaded by the University of Toronto. It records nearly 35,000 bookplates. Information contained per bookplate is scant, but it is well worth a look.
Dotted through all of the case studies are useful pieces of information, such as the Cuthbert Kitkham bookplate being of a 1790s style, but the type of paper it is printed on indicates a post 1800 date. It is little details like this that not only show the challenges of dating a bookplate, but also perhaps give us a little flavour of the owner itself. Did Cuthbert have this bookplate engraved earlier and this is a later printing of it, or were perhaps his tastes a little dated?
Again the issue of paper comes up for the Wainwright bookplates, where the copperplate was re-engraved for the son. Seeing facsimiles of the two side by side there is no doubt that this was done. The only differences being the amended name and (we are told) that the earlier of the two was printed on wove paper from the early 1800s, with the later on "shiny white china-clay coated paper closer to the mid-nineteenth century." I find this fascinating. If the son had been named after the father the indication as to which of the plates had come before would be from the paper alone. It has the air of Sherlock Holmes deducing information from a letter before opening it.
One of the things I noticed was that although the article discusses the different routes to discovering owner identities and the many resources that are accessible, it also mentions the limitations of these resources as well as what is not yet available. The internet is a wonderful thing, but it is time consuming to digitise information and create new databases. A lot of information has also been lost over time and may never be regained.
A recurring theme in the case studies for the identification of tricky bookplates was the reaching out to other enthusiasts for help. I was surprised to see mention of Twitter in the Robert Taylor case study, despite how in recent years the world of antiquarian books (and subsidiaries) has embraced social media. It is by connecting with others and utilising these new resources that we can make headway where before we could not. I was left feeling hopeful that in the years to come identifying bookplates would become much easier and that many more of the unattributed bookplates languishing in collections would not stay that way forever.
Part III to come soon. If you enjoyed reading this and have not read Part I then I very much suggest that you do. Also, this is just a review of sorts and in no way a substitute for the real thing. You can buy a sample journal for £7 including UK postage, or purchase back issues (at members’ rates if you apply for membership). The annual subscription costs only £40 per year for UK residents, or £52 if you live elsewhere. If you're interested in membership please get in touch with The Bookplate Society.