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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Bookplate for the Booklovers Library


Here's a nice old bookplate, circa early 1900s, from The Booklovers Library, whose home offices were in Philadelphia. This informative ex libris also indicates other offices and their addresses for New York, Brooklyn, Boston, Pittsburg (sic), and Washington. It's subtitle, Library of Current Literature, narrows down what kind of books would comprise the library.

If that sounds like a book club where subscribers received a new book each month, that's because it was. But subscribers did not purchase the books, they rented them.

The Booklovers Library was founded by Seymour Eaton in 1900. It was very successful within a short period of time, which inspired Eaton to start other enterprises, such as another rental library business (Tabard Inn Library) and the Booklovers Magazine. These attracted investors, who were paid dividends. Mark Twain was one of the more famous investors in Eaton's business. But the company overextended itself and there was some controversy about selling new shares of stock to pay dividends to the earlier investors. By 1905, the company was bankrupt, which creates a mystery for this bookplate.

The book it resides in is The Yoke, by Hubert Wales, a 1908 printing from the Stuyvesant Press in New York. How did this bookplate, from a company that went out of business in 1905, find its way into a book published three years later? If the bookplate were blank, I'd guess it was one left over and somebody got their hands on it and made use of it. I don't think that's likely, especially because of the number 715 penciled in. This looks like a numbered volume in the library. Possibly, another company took over and continued the operations of the Booklovers Library. That happened with Booklovers Magazine, which was acquired by Appleton's. But I can't find any information on what happened to the library business, or why my numbered bookplate from a defunct library mysteriously appeared several years later in a contemporary book.

The Wisconsin Library Heritage Center site has more information, with photos, about Eaton's enterprise. As his fortunes rapidly grew, he opened The Tabard Inn Library, offering the same type of service. Delivery, however was in the form of a revolving bookcase that could be placed in stores. The photo to the left is of such a device, complete with a receptacle for the five cents it cost to rent a book.

libraryhistorybuff.com has some more images connected with this library that are of interest. Also, related to an earlier post I wrote about bookmobiles, this site also offers a wonderful article with fantastic photos here of historical bookmobiles.

What became of Eaton? After the collapse of the Booklovers Library and related ventures, he got busy writing stories about bears named Teddy-B and Teddy-G, who had encountered President Roosevelt on his hunting trips. His syndicated stories became very popular and were collected in a number books. Eaton's stories helped inspire the creation of stuffed teddy bears.

You never know where the history of a bookplate or other ephemera will take you. This trail has no end, but this post does.

6 comments:

  1. Great story (and mystery!). On my next trip into Philadelphia, I will have to pay close attention to 1611 Chestnut Street. I'm trying to picture that block in my mind while sitting here, but I just can't grasp it. Enjoyable reading (and writing), regardless.

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  2. Thanks! I haven't been to Philadelphia in about eight years (except for a Phillies game last year--straight from airport to ballpark, then to NJ), so I can't really remember what I saw on Chestnut Street. The Graff House and Bartram House stick with me because of family history there, but I don't recall the locations. Sounds like another road trip is in order for a biblio-mystery.

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  4. My wife and I plan on a trip to Philadelphia on Saturday. Being famous for having a mind like a steel trap, I remember your post about the Book Lovers Library on Chestnut St. I plan on walking by and seeing what is in its place today (and take a photo or two).

    I have also found a 1323 Walnut Street address listed in reference to Eaton (just a few short blocks from the Chestnut St. address). It appears that he also had an enterprise known as the Library Publishing Company (one of the first "at home" study course pubishers), and it was housed at this Walnut St. address.

    I know there is a place that has a plaque on Walnut about P.T. Barnum's "Jenny Lind" having singing engagement, and I'm curious if it might be the same building. It's just off one of the squares. She was quite the sensation (at the time).

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  5. Thanks in advance for any info you get. That would be interesting to hear about. If it were Houston, the whole building might be gone, not just the business. Historical preservation is frequently an oxymoron here.

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  6. Chuck, we found it very much like the way you described in Houston: the building is gone. In its place is "Liberty Place" one of the tallest skyscrapers in Philadelphia. At street level, we have the "Shoppes at Liberty", and in the spot that once would have been The Book Lovers Library, 1611 Chestnut Street, was a "J. Crew" clothing retailer. Nothing remains of any of the original building(s) for the entire city block. It is now all chrome and glass.

    I think at least a sidewalk plaque -- marking the spot where "the largest circulating library in the world" main office once stood -- is in order, don't you?

    P.S. We were running late for the train, and I forgot my piece of paper that had the Walnut St. address on it. Perhaps next time around for that adventure.

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