Bookseller Labels                                                                 

A resource for the obscure little world of collecting booksellers’ marks and related ephemera...

~ Books & Other Resources ~

Wenn am Buch der Händler Klebt

Reinhard Öhlberger

Löcker Verlag (Wein), 1999.

The masterwork on bookseller labels, Reinhard Öhlberger tells the history and uses of these labels and lists over 20,000 by country.  Illustrated with hundreds of color and black and white images, it is a volume every bookseller label collector must own.  Printed as a limited edition of 999 copies, the first 99 are numbered and signed.  All the copies include a packet of 12 original bookseller labels.  While the text is in German, the book is easy to navigate when looking for labels and there is a one-page summary in English.  Mr. Öhlberger has been collecting bookseller labels for decades and has a massive collection that was the basis for this book.  357 pages, 7 ¾” by 12” hardcover with dust jacket.  This volume usually runs in the $150 to $250 range.

Booksellers Marks

Larry Dingman

Dinkytown Antiquarian Bookstore (Minneapolis), 1986.

If anyone is to blame for creating an interest in bookseller labels in America, Larry Dingman and this book are the culprits.  After a short preface by Dingman and an essay by Michael Q. Adams, 444 labels are reproduced in black and white.  The labels are arranged alphabetically and a by-state index follows.  This book resembles an old stamp album where you would tip in your label over the one pictured, and each copy of this volume had three labels tipped in.  Published in a limited edition of 447 (including donor and lettered copies).  97 pages, 4 5/8" by 10 1/4" hardcover (rust-orange cloth with paper cover label), no dust jacket.  The book usually sells in the $100-$150 range, but I have seen copies with several additional labels tipped-in for $200 to $300.

~~ Larry Dingman, dean of the Minnesota used-booksellers community, died of natural causes at his New Prague home in mid-December 2010.  Dingman, 73, was the owner of Dinkytown Antiquarian Books bookstore in Minneapolis and was known for his work with the Midwest Antiquarian Booksellers Association and was the coordinator of the Twin Cities Book Fair for 20 years.

Questioni di Etichetta

Piero Piani

Edizioni Libreria Naturalistica (Bologna), 2002.

This is essentially an album of bookseller label images—page after page of great labels (similar to the cover image).  While the labels focus heavily on Italian booksellers, there are examples from around the globe, including several antiquarian specimens.  A really beautiful collection.  There is a one-page introduction in Italian by the author, a one-page foreword by Fabio Pierantoni, and a 30-page index that gives brief location info on the booksellers.  Printed in a limited edition of 1,000 numbered copies, the first 100 of which were reserved for friends and institutions.  80 pages (48 pages of images, plus un-paginated index of bookseller locations), 6 ¾” by 9 3/8” softcover.  Usually sells in the $35 range.

Étiquettes Anciennes de Libraires Belges (Old Labels of Belgian Booksellers)

Émile Van Balberghe

Émile Van Balberghe (Bruxelles), 1987.

Number seven in Van Balberghe’s "Documenta et Opuscula" series, this slim volume features 25 images of early Belgian bookseller labels, dating from the mid-18th century through the mid-19th century, along with brief descriptions of the booksellers.  The text is in French.  36 pages, 6 ¼” by 9 3/8” softcover.  This title is scarce.

Book Trade Labels at the American Antiquarian Society
Marcus A. McCorison

American Antiquarian Society (Worcester, MA), 1973.

This first appeared as an article in the Proceedings of the A.A.S. in April of 1972, and then available as an offprint in 1973.  After a one-page introduction by the author, 33 labels are reproduced, all ranging from the 1750-1832 time range—and some of these labels are quite stunning.  14 pages, 6 1/8” by 9 ¼” staple-bound softcover.  Copies are still available new from the American Antiquarian Society (offprint number 785).

Ticketed Bookbindings from Nineteenth-Century Britain

Willman Spawn and Thomas E. Kinsella

Bryn Mawr College Library & Oak Knoll Press (New castle, Delaware), 1999.

This long-awaited work on nineteenth century British bookbinders' tickets has been a labor of scholarly love for the noted authors, as well as a major addition to the literature on bookbinding identification. Hundreds of binders' tickets are illustrated with well-researched background material. There are also 17 pages illustrating over a hundred leather bindings in full color.  An important reference book in the study of English binding.  While this volume focuses on binders’ tickets, there are several for both binders and booksellers (as shown in the entry above).  206 pages, 8 ¾” by 11 ¼” hardcover (blue cloth), no dust jacket (also available in softcover and unbound signatures).  Available new from Oak Knoll.

American Signed Bindings through 1876

Willman Spawn and Thomas E. Kinsella

Oak Knoll Press & Bryn Mawr College Library (New castle, Delaware), 2007.

In this first major study of American signed bookbindings, Spawn and Kinsella describe and illustrate 315 bookbinder's tickets, stamps, and engraved designations dating from the 1750s through 1876.  The details of the study reveal a vibrant segment of the book trade, deeply enmeshed with the related trades of booksellers, stationers and publishers.  Two hundred and thirty-three binders are represented, many with multiple designations.  Locations of binders cluster up and down the east coast from Maine to Virginia, with tickets as far south as New Orleans and as far west as Little Rock.  The study identifies binders from 19 states and 84 cities and towns.  Brief descriptions of bindings are provided, along with explanatory notes for many binders, especially in the binding centers of Boston, New York and Philadelphia.  Like Ticketed Bookbindings from Nineteenth-Century Britain, this volume focuses on binders’ tickets, but there are several for both binders and booksellers (as shown in the entry above).  299 pages, 8 ¾” by 11 ¼” hardcover (blue cloth), no dust jacket (also available as an unbound text block), with some wonderful full-color endpapers.  Available new from Oak Knoll.

It’s the Ticket: Nineteenth Century Bookbindings in the British Isles and the United States
Willman Spawn & Thomas E. Kinsella

Mariam Coffin Canaday Library, Bryn Mawr College (Bryn Mawr, PA), 1998.

This catalogue, written by the co-authors of the two books mentioned above, was for an exhibition at the Bryn Mawr College Library, 1998-99, featuring bookbindings from the British Isles acquired through the generosity of alumna Joanna Semel Rose. The collection contains 219 signed or ticketed bindings, nearly all from the 19th century. Illustrated with 13 color photographs of bindings and tickets.  16 page, self-paper wrapper booklet loosely inserted in a 6” by 9” pictorial card stock folder.  This has become a scarce item, but can still be found in the $20 - $40 range.


Some Random Reminiscences of an Antiquarian Bookseller

Harold C. Holmes

The Holmes Book Company (Oakland, CA), 1967.

This book tells the story of the founding of the Holmes Book Company in San Francisco by the author’s father, Robert Holmes, and the book hunting and selling adventures of Harold.   This is no Adventures of a Treasure Hunter (Everitt, 1952), but a good read nonetheless—though it does get a bit random towards the end.  Harold Holmes was a bookseller label collector and this book includes a two-page piece on the hobby.  The endpapers of the first edition (and there is only one edition as far as I know) show images of over 40 labels (see photo).  Some copies of the book have the foil bookseller label of The Holmes Book Co. affixed to the rear flap of the dust jacket.  The image on the label is the same one used on the dust jacket cover and in gilt on the front board of the book.  Only some copies have this label, so it pays to ask first when ordering online.  257 pages, 6 ¼” by 9 ¼” hardcover (red cloth) with dust jacket.  Usually sells in the $20 to $50 range.


200 Years of Detroit Booksellers: 1817 to 2007

Kathryn MacKay

Kathryn MacKay and The Book Club of Detroit (Detroit), 2010.

Here’s a nice addition to a bookseller label collection, especially for us folks from Michigan.  This volume explores some of the more prominent booksellers that operated in the Detroit area over the last 200 years, including The Detroit Book Store, the area’s first shop, a lengthy section dedicated to John King Books, and several other influential booksellers.  The book is illustrated with several ads gleaned from old city directories, but my main interest is in the tipped-in color frontis that shows a portion of John King’s framed collection of early Detroit bookseller labels.  The collection, matted in two very large frames, hangs, as I recall, in the hallway leading to the rare book room at John K. King Used & Rare Books at 901 W. Lafayette – they are worth a visit if you’re in the area.  There are a few other illustrations that look like they may be labels, but no information is given.  This book is a great resource for information on the sellers behind the Detroit labels you may have in your collection and a great start in documenting the history of bookselling in Michigan.  Limited edition of 500 copies, 116 pages, 5 5/8” by 8 3/4” hardcover (red cloth with silver titles).


The Booklover’s Guide to New Orleans

Susan Larson

Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge), 1999.

Similar to 200 Years of Detroit Booksellers, but more in-depth, this volume is at once a history of literary New Orleans and a guidebook packed with literary quites, short biographies and current (as of ’99) bookshops.  Our interest here is one page featuring thirty-one New Orleans bookseller labels from the collection of Carey Beckham and Alton Cook, including a stunning label from the Paul Morphy Book Shop that I would love to get my hands on (hint, hint)!  241 pages, 9 1/4” by 5 7/8” hardcover (cream paper over black cloth spine) with dust jacket.  Also available in softcover, widely available online.

~ Other Interesting Titles ~


Books Will Speak Plain: A Handbook for Identifying and Describing Historical Bindings 
Julia Miller

The Legacy Press (Ann Arbor), 2010.

This is a truly monumental work, and I don’t use that term often.  This is the type of reference book that is so packed with rich details on the history of the book, it’s hard to put down.  Its scope is massive, yet well presented by the author.  Chapters include: The Early History of the Codex; The Medieval Manuscript Book and Beyond; 1450 to 1800, The Book Changes Radically; The Book from 1800 to 1900; Identifying Binding Materials and Applications; Describing Historical Bindings—a Template for Action; The Task Ahead and Conclusion; and lengthy appendices.

From the publisher: “Books Will Speak Plain is published at a time when the historical book is at risk of being ignored, put away, and forgotten.  This handbook combines an overview of the history of the codex with basic information about many of the materials and structures found on historical bindings.  The book also includes description-survey guidelines and is supported by a variety of appendices. The text is illustrated by 374 images, many in color, and close to 1,500 color images on the accompanying DVD represent structural and decorative elements from a variety of bindings made before 1900.  The book’s focus on primarily non-luxury bindings adds depth to an often-neglected segment of the history of bookbinding.

“Preservation is at the heart of Books Will Speak Plain.  We have already lost too many historical bindings because their importance was not understood and appreciated.  This book is a call to action to urge custodians of every kind of historical book collection, public and private, to assess the physical character of the historical bindings in their care and record the changes that have accrued to those bindings during their passage through time.

“This book is a resource that can be used to recognize binding variations that have long been overlooked and to document such bindings for future scholars.  All bibliophiles, including bookbinders, curators, private collectors, librarians, catalogers, antiquarian booksellers, book-history scholars, and conservators, will find Books Will Speak Plain an invaluable resource.”

As for bookseller labels, the coverage is slim but present.  There are a handful of images of bookseller labels, bookbinders’ tickets and shared bookseller/binder labels, as well as information on bound-in binder and bookseller advertisements, and engraver, designer and binder signatures.  One of my favorite images is for a label from “M’Kee & Robertson’s Book & Shoe Store, Hagerstown, MD.”  The book is heavily illustrated with black and white photographs and drawings and includes two lengthy color sections.  The aforementioned DVD is itself a monumental work.  It not only gives color versions of the book’s black and white images, it contains an additional 1000+ well-described images—including several bookseller labels and binders’ tickets.  I was able to magnify the images to 400% on my laptop and still retain a clear picture.

Of course, the real importance here is the giant leap forward in book preservation and documentation—and it is a joy to behold.  510 pages, 7 ¼” by 10 ¼” hardcover (rust-colored cloth) with dust jacket and accompanying DVD.  Available from the publisher.


Provenance Research in Book History: A Handbook

David Pearson

The British Library & Oak Knoll Press (New Castle, Delaware), 1998, 2nd edition.

Reprint of the first edition with a new introductory section containing additional references to update the original text.  This book has quickly become established as a standard work in a field of rapidly growing interest.  At a time when more and more people are studying private book ownership, this handbook offers a compendium of information on the ways of recognizing and identifying marks of ownership, and on placing that knowledge in a wider context.  Topics covered include inscriptions; mottoes; bookplates; book labels and book stamps; armorials; sales catalogues; catalogues and lists of private libraries; provenance indices; heraldry and paleography.  While this volume does not specifically mention bookseller labels, it is an important tool in the understanding of book provenance, of which bookseller labels play a part.  326 pages, 6 ¼” by 9 1/8” hardcover with dust jacket.  Available new from Oak Knoll.



Books on the Move: Tracking Copies through Collections and the Book Trade

Robin Myers, Michael Harris and Giles Mandelbrote, eds.

Oak Knoll Press & The British Library (New Castle, Delaware), 2007.

Movements of books, both as individual volumes and as collections, have sometimes covered long distances across many centuries. Subject to the vagaries of war, shipwreck and personal ruin, as well as the intervention of the book trade and of collectors, the travels of books often have an intricately detailed and compelling story to tell. One of the most active areas of current research in book history is concerned with interpreting the clues from individual copies and piecing together the documentary evidence to provide this narrative. In this volume of the Publishing Pathways series, leading specialists in book history consider examples from the sixteenth to the twentieth century to chart some of the paths followed by books through the European network of print. This may focus on the large collections accumulated by Renaissance scholars, but may equally involve tracking multiple copies of the same work through the marks of ownership left by unknown readers. Books on the Move represents an important contribution to an understanding of the shifting interactions over time between libraries, collectors and the book trade.  Like David Pearson’s book, this volume does not deal with bookseller labels, but is another important work dealing with provenance.  164 pages, 6 ¼” by 9 ¼” hardcover with dust jacket.  Available new from Oak Knoll.

The Encyclopedia of Ephemera: A Guide to the Fragmentary Documents of Everyday Life for the Collector, Curator, and Historian

Maurice Rickards

Routledge (New York), 2000 (published in Great Britain by The British Library, London, 2000)

Containing over 500 hundred entries, The Encyclopedia of Ephemera is the only book to define, document and describe such a variety of ephemera.  Ranging from records of the past and present (both humble and prestigious), items designed to be thrown away (bus tickets, tangerine wrappers) and to be kept (cigarette cards), and documents of considerable importance (at least to the individual concerned), nothing is considered too trivial to deserve an entry.  Such variety—the lifeblood of the modern, commercial society—is the subject of this book.  Compiled by Maurice Rickards, whose research on this book spanned the thirty years before his death, the Encyclopedia seeks to present ephemera as a subject for serious study.   Underpinning it all is Rickards's view that ephemera can bring the past to life more vividly than many other forms of documentation.  Long undervalued by historians as important source material, this book demonstrates the need for ephemera to be catalogued and studied with something of the rigor applied to other kinds of documents, such as books, music, maps, prints and archival material.  Illustrated throughout, in color and black-and-white, with over 370 examples of ephemera, this book is both a fascinating read and an essential reference work for all those interested in the ephemera of our everyday lives.  Includes entries for bookseller labels, binders’ tickets, stationers’ labels, etc.  Endlessly fascinating.  8 ¾” by 11 ½” hardcover with dust jacket.  Available new from The Ephemera Society of America.