A resource for the obscure little world of collecting booksellers’ marks and related ephemera...
This rather large label, measuring 92mm x 63mm, was tipped-in a 1943 slipcased edition of Dickens’ Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club from the Modern Library. This label is most certainly from a shop named “The Old Curiosity Shop” found at 14 Portsmouth Street, Westminster, London. The building dates back to 1567, but this name was added after the novel was released, as it was thought to be the inspiration for Dickens' description of the antique shop. One website states that the shop has been closed since the late 1970s, its contents from that time having been left intact, and that local officials would like to turn it into an historical landmark and open it to the public. If any of our British friends could confirm this, it would be most appreciated.
The Old Curiosity Shop from a 1931 postcard. A more modern photo of The Old Curiosity Shop.
A more modern photo of The Old Curiosity Shop.
This lable/bookplate was found in a copy of The School for Saints, a biography of the Right Honourable Robert Orange, M.P., published in London by T. Fisher Unwin in 1897. It measures approximately 110mm x 64mm and is overstamped “On Loan from Stobb’s Library, Baxter St., Newport RGAB (?), Middlesbrg.” As always, if you have any information on Mr. R. Stobbs, please email.
Here’s a nice copy of Key to the Progressive Practical Arithmetic, the teacher’s edition, published in 1870 by Ivison, Blakeman, Taylor & Co., New York. The endpapers are covered with ads for the publisher’s other volumes, including Asa Gray’s botanical series. The front paste down has a 48mm x 32mm bookseller label from H.H. Bancroft & Co., Montgomery Street, San Francisco. What’s more, the rear pastedown has a large, 152mm x 82mm plate advertisement touting Bancroft’s wares and services, including printing, binding, engraving, spellers, speakers, algebras, botanies, pen knives, slates, psychologies, French books, etc. At the bottom it reads “Don’t forget the place: the large building with all the horned heads on it, Market Street near Third; and recollect you can buy School Books there FOR LESS than any where else in San Francisco.” Fantastic!
These lovely labels were sold on eBay on 9 March 2011 for £127 (approximately US$203 at the time). The well-described listing read, in part:
RARE BOOKSELLER'S TICKET for insertion in books in a similar way to a bookplate. Portrait of Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) in an oval with the following text beneath: Sold by DAVID MORTIER, Bookseller at ye Sign of Erasmus's head near Bedford houseIn the Strand, all Sorts of French and Latin Books. Sturt sculp.
The Franks Collection of British and American bookplates includes a (somewhat small) section for booksellers and circulating libraries. An example of this copper-plate engraving is included as F.34363. It is difficult to date this engraving. Perhaps the best guess would be some time in the first decade of the eighteenth century, but it could have been ten or more years either side of this.
The Oxford DNB has the following rather brief entry:
"John Sturt (1658–1730), engraver, was born in London on 6 April 1658 of unknown parentage. In 1674 he was apprenticed to Robert White, the most distinguished pupil of David Loggan. Like most engravers of the time, he derived his staple income by working as a book illustrator, and in the course of a long and industrious life he executed the plates for many important works, including Francis Bragge's Passion of our Saviour (1694), Samuel Wesley's History of the Old and New Testament in Verse (1704), Gerard Audran's Perspective of the Human Body, Andrea Pozzo's Rules and Examples of Perspective, dedicated to Queen Anne, with 105 plates (1707), Charles Perrault's Treatise on the Five Orders of Architecture (1708), Laurence Howell's View of the Pontificate (1712), Hamond's Historical Narrative of the Whole Bible (1727), and an edition of Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress (1728). Sturt was particularly celebrated for his skill as a writing engraver, and he engraved several of the works of the calligrapher John Ayres, most notably A Tutor to Penmanship, or, The Writing Master (1698), adding—as he frequently did—a frontispiece portrait of the author. He specialized in miniature work, and it was said that he could engrave the creed on a silver penny, a claim amply reinforced by his best-known works: engraved versions of the Book of Common Prayer and of Laurence Howell's The Orthodox Communicant, published respectively by subscription in 1717 and 1721. The first of these books, executed on 188 silver plates adorned with borders and vignettes, had a frontispiece portrait of King George I, the lines for which were composed of the creed, the Lord's prayer, the ten commandments, a prayer for the royal family, and Psalm 21, all inscribed in minute characters. Yet Sturt could also work on a large scale, and in 1692 he produced a notable engraving of Britannia, the royal first capital ship of England, printed on four sheets after drawings by William van de Velde. Many other drawings, particularly for bookplates, were prepared for Sturt by Bernard Lens the younger, with whom he opened a drawing school in St Paul's Churchyard about 1697. Sturt later moved to Aldersgate Street, where he was established by 1707. From 1712 until his death he was on good terms with George Vertue, to whom he provided information about other engravers and artists, including John Payne and Willem Wissing. Despite failing health, he continued to work until the end of his life, being last employed on plates for the Selectus diplomatum et numismatum thesaurus, projected by James Anderson of Edinburgh. ‘Worn out with age and … drove to great difficulties to live’ (Vertue, Note books, 3.44), he declined to take advantage of efforts made on his behalf to secure him a place in the Charterhouse, and he died, in debt, in the parish of St. Botolph, Aldersgate, in August 1730. He was buried at St. Botolph on 13 August. From the evidence of his will he was a widower, but nothing is known of his wife or any child."
Like John Senex, Sturt was postulated as the engraver of the "Brighton Book" of Queen Anne style Early Armorial bookplates, but it is difficult to reconcile his "hand" as an engraver with the style of that series of bookplates, which are more reliably attributed to William Jackson and those working with him. It is possible that the Oxford DNB article is not quite accurate regarding his parentage, for in the International Genealogical Index there is an entry for the birth in London of a John Sturt c.1658 to Anthony Sturt and Mary Chapman. His trade cards confirm him as of Golden Lion Court in Aldersgate Street and St. Paul's Churchyard.
Pierre (1661-1711) and David Mortier were brothers of French extraction whose publishing interests covered a wide field embracing French and English works as well as Dutch. Pieter was probably trained in the bookselling business in Paris and David spent many years in England, acquiring British nationality and dying there in about 1728. After Pieter's death, his widow continued the business until their son, Cornelis, was able to take over. Then in 1721, Cornelis entered into partnership with his brother-in-law, Johannes Covens, to form the famous name Covens and Mortier, a firm which continued in existence, with only a slight change of name, until the middle of the nineteenth century.
Very similar to David Mortier's bookseller ticket is another with the text: "Sold by PETER DUNOYER Book, Map, & Print-Seller at ye Sign of Erasmus's Head near the Fountain Tavern in the Strand."
This item is lightly mounted onto grey card. It has good provenance: in the image has been shown the MS notes that the ticket was "Bought from" AH (celebrated trade card collector Ambrose Heal's ownership label is attached to verso of the card) and "Remounted 16.x.37". Dimensions of paper: 104x66mm.
Please Note: While I saved the image and description, I failed to note the seller so I could ask permission to reprint this listing (it is past eBay’s archive date). If you were the seller, the buyer, or know who was, please email.
Here’s some interesting bookseller label ephemera. These bookmarks were given to visitors of the Bossche Boekenmarkt in Den Bosche, Netherlands. The fair began in 1989 and lasted for twenty years until it moved to Vaught. The bookmarks each feature images of different labels from Dutch booksellers and based on the series letters, I presume they began in 1994. The back sides of these bookmarks feature advertisements for a printer.
I also collect bookplates, so the bookplate/bookseller combination is very interesting to me. I haven’t come across many, but there are a few out there. Pictured above is a label from J.W. Robinson Co. from Los Angeles. I haven’t seen one intact, but I believe this to be a perforated, two-part label with the price tag attached below. Pictured below is a beautiful label from Universitas Booksellers in Jerusalem. This is a large label—truly bookplate size at 7 cm by 12 cm. Until recently I would have sworn this was designed by Reynolds Stone, but in fact it was designed by Ismar David (1919-1996). David was a German-born graphic artist who lived in Palestine from 1932 until 1952. In ’52 David moved to New York where he remained until his death.
The two images below depict bilingual ads David designed for Universitas Booksellers during the same period. The top image has David’s last name on the bottom of the ad. For more information on Ismar David, visit IDEA, The Ismar David Electronic Archive.
Here’s another style of bookplate/bookseller label (below) from my own shop. These business card-sized labels come in both horizontal and vertical versions and were designed for some of our kids’ books. Sometimes we come across a book we really want for our stock, but a child or teacher has written their name in it, or there is a RIT stamp or some other mark. These labels will often cover the offending mark and we can stock it in our shop – at a further discounted price, of course. If you have any other bookseller labels with a bookplate theme, please send a scan and I’ll add it to this post.
An update on Holmes Book Co. labels: I recently picked up a book which contained the above pictured label for H.C. Holmes, Bookseller—himself a trade label collector. It was pasted into a copy of Primeval Man by the Duke of Argyll (George Routledge & Sons, New York, 1878). This label has a bit of interesting history behind it. Robert Holmes began selling books in 1894 and in 1898 his son, Harold Holmes, took over the shop at 1149 Market Street, San Francisco. It was this shop that was destroyed by the great San Francisco earthquake in 1906. This certainly dates the label, between 1898 and 1906, and adds another mark to the short list of labels used by the Holmes family. The current checklist is below. If you know of any other variations, please email us the details and, if possible, a photo. The last Holmes family shop closed in 1995 after 100 years in business.
~ H.C. Holmes, Bookseller. 1149 Market St., San Francisco, Cal. 26mm x 15mm. Black text on white paper.
~ Holmes Book Co. 704 Mission St., 1431 Market St., S.F. Size unknown (this labels is depicted on the endpapers of Harold Holmes’ autobiography Some Random Reminiscences, see our book page for more info). Black text on white paper.
~ The Holmes Book Co. Oakland, Calif. 23mm x 29mm. Blue text and image on silver foil. This is the label that is sometimes found on copies of Holmes’ autobiography.
~ Holmes Book Co. Old, New, Rare. Oakland, San Francisco. 23mm x 29mm. Dark blue text and image on light blue paper. Similar layout as the foil label.
~ 90 Years, 1894—1994. The Holmes Book Co. 29mm x 54mm. Dark blue text and image on light blue paper.
Russell J. DeSimone is a bookbinder, bibliophile and independent scholar. He is the compiler of Broadsides of the Dorr Rebellion (1992), and author of The Dorr Rebellion Chronicled in Ballads and Poetry (1993), A Survey of Nineteenth Century Rhode Island Billheads (2002), and other works. He is now retired from both the defense industry and as an adjunct professor at the University of Rhode Island library where he curated numerous exhibitions drawn mainly from his own collections. Being a bookbinder for more than 30 years, Russell has often “harvested” the labels out of old books and pasted them into a scrapbook of bookseller labels and bookbinder tickets. He was kind enough to share images of the “B” and “C” pages from his scrapbook. (I especially love the old label from Eutaw, Alaska and the Librairie Amateurs from Geneva. – Gabe)
As a 2010 birthday gift, Reinhard Öhlberger’s daughter Agnes gave him a gift of custom Austrian postage stamps. The stamps feature an image of bookseller labels form the cover of Reinhard’s book, Wenn am Buch der Händler Klebt. The stamps come in sheets of 20 and the border of the sheets feature the printer's colophon reading "Oesterreichische Staatsdruckerei" (Austrian State Printery) and the badge of the Austrian republic. Unlike the custom postage one can have printed in the United States, with barcodes and the names of the companies subcontracted by the USPS (like Stamps.com and Zazzle), the Austrian Post Administration’s custom stamps have a clean look and make wonderful collectibles. Thanks to Reinhard Öhlberger for the photos.
A pile of our new bookseller labels. The brass printing plate our label was printed from.
After years of using labels that we laser printed on vintage paper, we commissioned bookbinder Vernon Wiering to design and print some simple bookseller labels for my shop, Bay Leaf Books. Vernon created the design on a computer and then had a brass printing plate made. Also on the plate are similar labels with “Ex Libris GLK” to act as miniature bookplates. Using the plate, Vernon was able to print off thousands of labels on his vintage hot stamping machine onto vintage, self-adhesive paper. On his blog, aptly named “The Binder’s Ticket,” Vernon shows how he created his current binders’ ticket which was done at the same time as my label. Like the Bookery labels, if you’re interested in trading, please email.
Our old label. A close-up of the printing plate.
The box of Bookery labels, c1940. A close-up. The actual size is 26mm by 7mm.
Here’s a great find. When the Bookery (Grand Rapids, Michigan) closed in December of 2008 the owner, Ken Engen, found these in the back of a desk drawer. The box measures about 2 ½” square by 1 3/8” deep and holds thousands of bookseller labels. The Bookery was opened in 1930 by Bub Lafferty and sold new and used books and novelties. Bub owned the shop until 1958 and the labels are believed to be from the late-1930s – early-1940s. Originally located in the basement of the McKay Tower in downtown Grand Rapids, the Bookery changed owners, and locations, a few times. After Bub retired in 1958, they gradually phased out books and by 1963 the Bookery was a coin and stamp shop. Eventually stamps were phased out by the final owner, concentrating on coins and paper money. At some point, the Bookery also had a dark blue and white label. Anyone interested in trading for some of these Bookery labels can email me. Also pictured is a printing block I got from Ken, featuring the same open book design. The block measures 3 1/8” by 1 1/16” and was used for their print ads and flyers.
Another style of label from the Bookery.