Thursday, November 29, 2012

Mostly Letters About Bookplates

Books are not the only things I collect. I collect autograph letters, and displayed some of them in my September 2011 blog post. What I did not display in that blog post were most of the letters I acquired in an eBay auction in September 2002:

The title of the eBay auction, "1920s Book Plate Collecting Letters Lot," is a misnomer. Of the nineteen letters in the lot, only three letters are from the 1920s. Twelve of the letters, however, are about bookplates, and hence my title, "Mostly Letters About Bookplates." I posted partial images of these letters on my website shortly after acquiring them. But today I will provide full scans of each letter and give you the "pleasure" of trying to read them. I will also tell you a little bit about the correspondents.

Nine of the twelve letters about bookplates are addressed to Miss Lydia M. Poirier (1873-1936), Librarian, Duluth Public Library, a bookplate collector who corresponded with both bookplate collectors and bookplate designers. The Poirier name might be familiar to you: Miss Poirier's father, Camille Poirier, was the creator of the Poirier Packsack. And Lew Jaffe posted the bookplate of one of Miss Poirier's brothers, Philip Azarie Poirier, in his blog post, Cowboys on Bookplates.

Miss Lydia M. Poirier posted a notice in Zella Allen Dixson's book, Concerning Book-Plates: a Handbook for Collectors, that she was willing to trade bookplates with other collectors.

This is one of Lydia M. Poirier's bookplates, but probably not the one she traded with the bookplate collectors in the early 1900s:

Miss Poirier was the Librarian at Duluth Public Library from 1899 to 1910, and sometimes had a rocky working relationship with the Library Board. For a brief period, the Board barred her from attending Board meetings. Miss Poirier resigned her position in February 1910 to run a school for girls in California. I believe she had the Berkeley bookplate engraved while she was in California. More on Miss Poirier later.

Bookplate collectors came from all walks of life in the early 1900s. Wilbur Macey Stone (1862-1941) was a mechanical engineer from New Jersey. He wrote a number of books about bookplates, children's books, and various other book-related topics. Miss Poirier sent Wilber Macey Stone some bookplates and purchased some of his books about bookplates, including one of the 350 copies of Some Children's Book-plates. Wilbur Macey Stone may have sent Miss Poirier this bookplate:

The image of this bookplate is courtesy of The Rare Book & Manuscript Library of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Stewart Means (1852-1940) was the Rector of St. John's Episcopal Church in New Haven, Ct., and wrote a number of religious books. He sent Miss Poirier this bookplate:

[Bookplate of Stewart Means]

I originally identified this letter writer as Lawthrie L. Bliss. Her real name is Caroline Seagrave Bliss (1867-1943). She was a member of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She too was listed in Dixson's book about bookplates. And here is her bookplate by E.D. French, which she offered to trade with Miss Poirier:

From: GRA 115, William Augustus Brewer bookplate collection, Special Collections, University of Delaware Library, Newark, Delaware.

Albertine Randall Wheelan (1863-1954) was a "jack of all trades" and a master of almost every one of them. She was a bookplate designer, an illustrator, an artist, and even a costume designer on Broadway. She may have sent Mis Poirier this bookplate:

I originally identified this letter writer as Adalbert Balasser. His real name is Adalbert Balassa (1881-1963), and he worked in the banking industry in Chicago, eventually becoming President of a Savings and Loan Association.

The image of this bookplate is courtesy of The Rare Book & Manuscript Library of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

J Everist Cathell (?-1913), Rector of St. Paul's Parish in Des Moines, reportedly knew Abraham Lincoln, and went on the lecture circuit in the early 1900s, speaking about Lincoln and the Civil War. There is extensive feedback on Cathell's success as a lecturer in the Redpath Chautauqua Collection in Special Collections at the University of Iowa Libraries.

From reading his letter, I gather that Rev. Cathell may not have been a bookplate collector himself; whatever Miss Poirier sent him, he forwarded to Carl L. Bernhardt for his collection. Here is the bookplate Carl L. Bernhardt designed for J. Everist Cathell:

From: GRA 115, William Augustus Brewer bookplate collection, Special Collections, University of Delaware Library, Newark, Delaware.

Emma Carleton (1852-1907) was a journalist and a poet. Her father was a bookseller, and his bookstore is displayed in her bookplate, which was included in Indiana Bookplates by Esther Griffin White.

I missed the boat on this one. For years I thought this note was from W. Price, the Editor of The Book-Lover to Anna L. Carleton. But just the other night, I happened to glance at this note while I had Emma Carleton's letter displayed on my computer screen. By golly! The handwriting was a match! Anna L. Carleton was actually Emma Carleton, and she was the author of this note. In the note, she mentions an article on bookseller plates that she wrote for The Book-Lover. Her article appeared in the Dec 1903 issue (Vol IV, No. 6).

C Valentine Kirby (1875-1947) wrote a book or two and a few articles about bookplates including this one. His circular is more than just an advertisement for his bookplate designs. Open it up and it is writing paper for corresponding with bookplate collectors.

Below is an image of the University Club bookplate he mentions in his letter.

Helen W. Foster acquired her A.B. from Vassar in 1901, her A.M. from Columbia in 1908, and then studied at universities in Munich and Berlin from 1908 to 1910. Afterwards, she worked in the Free Library of Newark, and the Hotel Clinton in East Orange, New Jersey.

Helen W. Foster married Frederick J. Gould. I should mention that her husband is not the English author by the same name. Likewise, it is unlikely that the Elsa Löwenthal who engraved her bookplate is the Elsa Löwenthal who married Albert Einstein. Miss Foster's Elsa was from Frankfurt, while Einstein's Elsa was from Berlin. But didn't Miss Foster study in Berlin? An interesting coincidence of names for sure!

Miss Foster's March 1910 letter is the last letter I have that was sent to Miss Lydia Poirier. Shortly after receiving the letter, Miss Poirier moved to California to become the headmistress of the Chandler School of Girls in Los Altos, California. By September 1912, Miss Lydia Poirier was assisting at the Library of the University of California at Berkeley. And by the next year, she was on the way home to Duluth.

A notice in the Jul 29, 1913 Duluth Herald:

In Dec 1915, she made a new home, so to speak.

Edward M. Goddard (1869-1936) was the librarian of the Vermont State Library, and most likely met Miss Poirier at one of the many American Library Association conventions they attended. He resigned his position in 1910 to work for an insurance firm in New Jersey where his uncle worked. I found nothing more of interest about the Goddards after their wedding until their deaths in 1936. Lydia and Edward Goddard died three months apart in 1936. Newspaper articles reporting his death called him "the best insurance man in the East."

The next two letters concern the bookplate that William Edgar Fisher (1872-1956) designed in 1920 for William F. Gable (1856-1921), store merchant and owner of Gables Department Store in Altoona. But first a little bit about each of them:

From Concerning Book-Plates by Zella Allen Dixson:

From Book-Plates of To-Day  edited by Wilbur Macey Stone

From A Magnificent Farce by A, Edward Newton:

Gable's Department Store:

1st Letter:

2nd letter:

Here is the bookplate William Edgar Fisher designed for William F. Gable:

The letter below is the last of the bookplate-related letters:

In the beginning of this letter, L. Averill Cole (1880-1971) admonishes George Wolfe Plank (1883-1965) for his delay in submitting bookplates for a bookplate exhibit in San Francisco. L Averill Cole was no stranger to exhibitions, exhibiting not bookplates, but fine bindings. As for Mr. Plank, Marianne Moore provides an impressive biographical essay on him in her blog.

A previous owner wrote the word "bookplate" near the top of the letter, probably because it was addressed to the bookplate collector, William F. Gable. But this letter does not mention bookplates. Its sender, L Averill Cole, writes about fine bindings, and thanks Gable for a vase he sent her.

This next letter is the only letter from this lot to appear in my September 2011 post:

In this letter, John Hyde Preston (1906-1980) the novelist responds to the prolific writer, Louis Untermeyer (1885-1977), thanking him for his comments about Preston's new book, The Liberals: A Novel, first published in 1938. Remember George Wolfe Plank? He illustrated a number of books and articles for Louis Untermeyer, including this one:

William F. Gable wasn't the only merchant who was represented in these letters. A. T. Stewart (1803-1876), the Father of the Department Store," wrote a letter inviting a Mr. Newcomb and a Mr. Lister to dinner. Alexander Turney Stewart was featured in Elbert Hubbard's Little Journeys to the Homes of Great Business Men.

A.T. Stewart had an enviable collection of paintings sculptures and other works of art. If you're only into books, Stewart's library begins at lot number 1014.

The Mr. Newcomb who received Mr. Stewart's letter is most likely Horatio Victor Newcomb (1844-1911). I have yet to identify the Mr. Lister who was also invited to dinner.

If you can read this next letter, you are very good!

Here is my "translation" of Mr. Bandinel's letter:

Bandinel's letter is undated, but he died in 1849, and his only son was a curate in Marshwood, Dorset, from 1847 to 1856. Marshwood is near Blandford so I believe this letter was written sometime between 1847 and 1849. Who was it written to? I don't have a clue!

Frances Starr (1886-1973) was one of Alan Dale's "Most Interesting People on the Stage." She appeared on Broadway, and in the movies and on TV. Remember the bookplate designer, Albertine Randall Wheelan? She was the costume designer for Rose of the Rancho, a play in which Frances Starr had one of the leading roles.

I have yet to positively identify the Mr. Nelson who Frances Starr wrote to. It could be the director/performer, Duane Nelson.

Frances Starr did not appear in any of Duane Nelson's plays. Nor did she appear in any of Lula Vollmer's plays. And there were no characters named Lydia and Mary in any of their plays that made it to Broadway. Now for a longshot: Lydia and Mary were characters in Pride and Prejudice. Did Lula Vollmer write a playscript based on Jane Austine's novel? A stage production was written in 1935, but not by Lula Vollmer.

From a Wikipedia article on Ogden Mills (1884-1937):

There is an interesting review of Ogden Mill's book, The Seventeen Million in the September 1937 issue of Forum and Century. After reading the review, I couldn't help thinking of the forty-seven percent who voted for Governor Romney in the last election.

This last letter may have been sent to the autograph collector who was the original owner of this lot of letters. If so, I thank him for providing hours of entertainment for me, and hopefully, for you.