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Sporting Bookplates

My love of the outdoors shaped my life. Born in Washington, D.C., I was raised in Oklahoma City before my service with the Marines and college. I went on to a career as a Fishery Research Biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. This work took me to the remote wilderness areas of Alaska, a laboratory in Washington State and finally to Arkansas where I have now retired.

For pleasure, I studied art at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia , Arkansas. For work, I was a bookseller specializing in hunting and fishing editions. During this time a good friend with an interest in bookplate collecting passed on. I handled the sale of his collection for the family and discovered my interest in sporting bookplates!

The sporting bookplate provides an outlet for the passions of individuals that enjoy fishing, hunting, and the natural world. Ex libris fishing plates generally depict fishing gear, especially rods and reels, creels, landing nets, boats, and fish. Hunting ex libris contains guns, decoys, animals, and associated paraphernalia. Other outdoor activities are frequently associated with sporting bookplates. Some of these include sports and hobbies such as golf, polo, tennis, sailing, camping, canoes, tents, backpacking, photography and, of course, books!

There are sporting bookplates mentioned throughout literature and bookplates on fishing are abundant. A Catalogue of Angling Book Plates Forming the Collection of Daniel B. Fearing, Newport, R.I.  provides descriptions of 303 listed angling bookplates. This book is probably the earliest reference on sporting bookplates that was published in 1918.

Interestingly, the book was dedicated to the Newport, Rhode Island chapter of the American Red Cross. Mr. Fearing’s introduction is noteworthy as he detailed printing records, objects found in angling plates, as well as several witty comments about the owners. The American Society of Bookplate Collectors & Designers publications Bookplates in the News; Ex Libris Chronicle and the Yearbook occasionally show or mention sporting bookplates. The American Fly Fisher magazine had an article on fishing bookplates in its 1995 issue. Just recently, Hunting & Fishing Collectibles Magazine  presented my article on “Hunting and Fishing Bookplates” (July-August 2010).

New York City architect and duck decoy collector, Joel Barber, designed one of my favorite bookplates for H.F. Stone. This was the bookplate that started my interest in collecting. You will note a small “B” located on right along the bottom of the plate is the artist’s signature. The plate illustrates an ancient Nevada Native American canvasback drake decoy made from reeds and earthen dyes. Mr. Barber, an architect in New York City, is considered to be the “Grandfather of decoy collecting” in the United States. He published his book on decoy collecting and illustrated it with many of his own drawings. Though I cannot validate the owner of the bookplate, it is strongly suspected that the plate belonged to Supreme Court Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone, who taught law at Columbia University and lived in New Jersey. He had a coastal cottage in New England and was known to enjoy fishing. I believe that Stone and Barber were acquainted through membership in a Long Island hunting club.

Bookplates in the area of sporting and natural history are abundant, and the owners of these appear to have a special love for the outdoors whether it’s hunting, fishing, hiking, rowing, or just camping. In a review of used book references, there were many books available for the sportsmen of America in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s (Hand, 1991).

Editor’s note: This text by T.O. Duncan is in abbreviated form. The complete essay with many illustrations will be included in Illustrated Essays on Bookplate Collecting, Volume II. This edition will be published next year. JK


Ex Libris Chronicle
Director: James P. Keenan