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In the Beginning...; or How I Got Hooked with Bookplates

As a (sophisticated?) college sophomore in 1946 I bought for my then expanding personal library a packet of Antioch bookplates (G-9) and that one packet was all I felt I needed. Shortly thereafter at college, I met a recently returned WW II veteran. While stationed in Liverpool he had commissioned a personal bookplate from a local firm. We were married before graduation and moved to New Jersey. For some years my time was spent maintaining a home, raising a family, and in graduate school.

In 1968 I became the librarian of Montclair Art Museum’s LeBrun Library; and one of my (less urgent) duties was the custody of the museum’s significant bookplate collection*. In the 1980s I earned an MLS degree, with papers oriented to my museum library work. For one paper I contacted the institutions included in Clara Therese Evans and Carlyle S. Baer’s Census of Bookplate Collections in Public, College and University Libraries (1938) to determine what they were doing to conserve and preserve the material under their control. Several major bookplate collections (Columbia University, Princeton University, Rutgers University, New York Public Library, Grolier Club, Newark Public Library, New-York Historical Society, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Academy of Medicine, University Club of New York) were within commuting distance of Montclair so I was able to make personal inspection visitts.

I became aware that no one had done any research about Arthur Nelson Macdonald and his bookplates since Thomas Ewing French’s checklist 1940 at the time that Macdonald died. I was in the right place: Montclair an urban neighbor of New York City and adjacent to Macdonald’s East Orange. And it was the right time; the Morgan Library had put on the market its bookplate collection (Margaret Woodbury Strong’s collection, with her exceptional links with Macdonald and his personal business files. As an added incentive there was Edith Cleaves Barry (of Montclair) with her personal friendship and professional collaboration with Macdonald.

Edith presenting an exhibit

In the early 1980s there were only four ASBC&D members in New Jersey: the Montclair Art Museum and three individual members. My letter to these men resulted in all three visiting the museum library and inspecting its bookplate collection. And, specifically, the offer by Whitney McDermut to publish anything I wrote – an exceptional offer that became, I am sure, more involved than he had originally anticipated. The result was the 1986 exhibition of the bookplates of Arthur Nelson Macdonald at the Montclair Art Museum which was pleased to offer a different kind of graphic art to its public; as well as the book (in two editions) which Whitney funded. In preparing for the Macdonald exhibition, I had also made research visits (through attendance at ARLIS conferences) to distant institutional and private bookplate collections.

Subsequent to the Macdonald exhibition, I mounted two additional bookplate exhibitions: David McNeely Stauffer (1990) and Bookplates from the [museum’s] Permanent Collection (1993) before retiring in 1997.

Before that time I vowed I would NEVER start a personal bookplate collection!!! But — before I retired the museum library was offered a collection of German bookplates (Munich secession) which was outside the museum’s (American) collecting limits. I inspected the bookplates, succumbed and bought them, as I later bought three other small bookplate collections. The final one (the Swann Galleries’ auction in 2000 of bookplates from the Cleveland Public Library) had many duplicates which I was able to use as exchanges at the FISAE Congress in Boston.

As the result of my previous bookplate work, I have continued researching, lecturing, writing; and publishing bookplate material, both in the United States and in Great Britain, Spain, and Sweden. From 2000 through 2007, my “Directory of Women Bookplate Artists” was published in segments in Bookplate International.

As secondary benefits to (and by-products of) my collecting activities, I have found time to create bookplates for family and friends, as well as maintaining friendships worldwide through correspondence and attendance at several FISAE Congresses and ASBC&D assemblies.

In early 2009, the Montclair Art Museum decided to close its LeBrun Library. While its library volumes were mainly moved to the Montclair State University Sprague Library, the bookplate collection became the property of the Grolier Club in New York City.

For James P. Keenan’s VW Beetle library by Edith A. Rights


Ex Libris Chronicle
Director: James P. Keenan