Ex-Libris: Bookplates in UCD Special Collections (Part 2)

Welcome to Part 2 of Ex Libris: Bookplates in UCD Special Collections!

At the close of the last post, we had arrived at the later decades of the nineteenth century, and the visual amusements offered in Édouard-Henri Avril’s bookplate design for Henry Spencer Ashbee. In this post, we continue with bookplates that also have a known artist or designer, taking in a selection of British and Irish examples. There is a common thread here: these designs also have a connection to the wider Aesthetic and Arts and Crafts movements of this period which manifested in different ways across Ireland, Britain and America. 

That said, there are still plenty of anonymous bookplates from this period! Some designs, such as that for Walter Strickland, an art historian and registrar of the National Gallery of Ireland from 1894 – 1914, retain the heraldic devices and family motto seen in earlier examples. 

Although the artist hasn’t been identified (yet), the ‘Hermione’ referred to in the second image above was Hermione Wilhelmina Fitzgerald (née Duncombe), Duchess of Leinster (1864-1895), a society beauty and wife of the 5th Duke of Leinster. This ex libris is found in ‘Man and Art’, a book that was once part of the library of Carton House, and its design shares some of the visual language of the Arts and Crafts movement, with its rich foliage and dense decorative scheme.

Rake.118, UCD Special Collections

In the dramatic scene depicted in this bookplate for Margaret B. Cross, we see a Salome-like woman in classical drapery, dagger in one hand and holding a face or mask aloft, accompanied by the phrase ‘Ride si sapis’, or ‘Laugh, if you are wise’. 

Moving on, in 1927, a collection of around 1200 books was donated to UCD, forming the Sigerson-Shorter Bequest of nineteenth and twentieth century books, mainly relating to literature. This collection had belonged to Dora Sigerson (1866 – 1918) and her husband, Clement King Shorter (1857 – 1926). Both were writers, with King Shorter working as a magazine editor, for London-based publications like the Illustrated London News, The Sketch, and The Sphere, which he founded in 1900, along with The Tatler in 1901. Although work is ongoing to fully identify all items in the Sigerson-Shorter bequest, librarians are helped in some instances by the presence of King Shorter’s beautiful ex libris, designed by one of the leading British illustrators of the period, Walter Crane (1845 – 1915)

6.R.17, UCD Special Collections

Crane established his career as an illustrator of children’s books (examples of which can be found in our John Manning Collection) before developing a more sensuous style associated with the Aesthetic Movement. Later again, Crane worked with William Morris at the Kelmscott Press, producing Gothic images to accompany Morris’s The Story of Glittering Plain and Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. Crane was one of the founders of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society in London, and wrote convincingly on the causes of art and socialism. 

Crane’s design for King Shorter is filled with detail, not just the foliage and border patterning, but with a monogram (shown on a shield on the upper left hand side), a seated figure holding a book, and an extended quote from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Details from the quotation are found throughout the design: the foliage includes roses, and there is a nightingale above the word ‘Shorter.’ The selection of a quotation from the Rubaiyat is in keeping with the artistic circles that Crane and King Shorter were part of: the title refers to Edward FitzGerald’s 1859 translation of quatrains by the Persian poet, Omar Khayyam (1048 – 1131), popularised by Whitley Stokes in the 1860s and admired by the Pre-Raphaelites. 

Before moving on, look closely at this design: can you find Crane’s monogram? 

42.T.20, UCD Special Collections

Our next bookplate was designed by Louis John Rhead (1857 – 1926), an English-born artist and illustrator who established his practice in New York from 1883. Rhead was known for his work as a poster designer, working for Harper’s and Century magazine. He also designed and wrote children’s books. Rhead’s design for Frank J. Pool appears in quite a notable collection item. It is Oscar Wilde’s, Salome, published in 1894 by Elkin Mathews & John Lane, London and Copeland & Day, Boston, with black and white illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley. This copy also has an insertion: a letter written by Lord Alfred Douglas (who, in addition to being Wilde’s lover, did the initial translation of this text from its original French) to Arthur Symons, a writer, bibliographer and book collector. Together with the bookplates (there are actually two in this copy, the other is for George Charles Williamson), the letter and review offer an tantalising history of ownership for this book, hinting at an even bigger mystery (as yet to be discovered) of how it came to be in UCD.

2.B.9, UCD Special Collections

There is no such mystery in our next item, however. This ex libris, designed by Thomas Sturge Moore (1870 – 1944) for W. B. Yeats, appears in a book that was given by Yeats to Constantine Peter Curran in November 1933. Moore, a poet and author as well as artist, was part of London’s Arts and Crafts artistic circles, and it was through this network that he was introduced to Yeats with whom he formed a lifelong friendship. Many of Yeats’s most memorable book covers were designed by Moore, copies of which you can find in our holdings. Moore’s design for Yeats’s bookplate hints at their shared interest in Symbolism, with two figures (perhaps representing youth and old age) holding up chalices against a cross-like structure. The Latin motto, ‘Bonis Omnia Bona’, translates to ‘To the good all things are good’. 

Staying with the Yeats family, we can find other connections between this notable name and the topic of the bookplate in our holdings. Jack B. Yeats frequently designed bookplates, for example, for Curran and for Robert Gregory. Perhaps best remembered now for the series of poems that W. B. Yeats wrote in his memory (including ‘An Irish Airman Foresees His Death’), prior to the First World War, Gregory was an accomplished artist: after training at the Slade School of Art, London, he worked as an book illustrator and stage designer including at the Abbey Theatre. This bookplate, simply designed but hand coloured, appears in a copy of W. B Yeats’s Poems, published in 1899. 

13.T.30, UCD Special Collections

Josephine Webb’s bookplate, found in a book that she was given as a prize at the Dublin School of Art in 1876, was also likely designed by Jack B. Yeats. Furthermore, it was printed at the Dun Emer Press, an arts and crafts business founded by Evelyn Gleeson and Elizabeth Yeats in Dundrum, Dublin.

From 1902 to 1908, the Dun Emer Press produced hand-printed books, modelled on the example of Morris’s Kelmscott Press, broadsides and other paper goods, such as ex libris. In 1908, the work of the Dun Emer Press, including their bookplates, was praised in the American publication, The Book-Lover’s Magazine in an article by Adeline Hill Tickell, with the author noting how: 

‘A book-plate, therefore, should first of all be representative of the owner, and symbolise him or her, as the case may be, in a very definite way. It will be seen that the book-plates which emanate from the Dun Emer Press have in the great majority of cases, and whenever possible, been designed or composed with that idea.

Webb’s bookplate, with its map of Ireland and window open to a setting sky, speaks to the themes of the literary and artistic revival of which Dun Emer was part. However the string of author’s names around its border (Charles Lamb, George Bernard Shaw, [Heinrich?] Heine, Robert Louis Stevenson, Walt Whitman, George Gissing, John Keats, William Blake and [Elizabeth Barrett or Robert?] Browning suggests a wider literary history to which Webb wanted to gesture towards or associate with. Thus, as ever, the presence of a bookplate tells one story and the visual choices of commissioner and artist tell another.

This post was written by Katy Milligan, Library Assistant, UCD Special Collections

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