A Photographic Bookplate


I've been wanting to write about this bookplate since acquiring the book I found it in about eight years ago--Handel, by C.F. Abdy Williams, published in 1901 by both J.M. Dent & Co. (London) and E.P. Dutton & Co. (New York).

The bookplate's setting features a meadow or pasture, where a young man, John Woodroffe Garthwaite, sits in a chair with a book in his hands and a dog by his side. The current pandemic reminded me of this image and the parallels to social distancing activities we are practicing today to mitigate the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Of course, the scene was composed for reasons other than fighting a pandemic, but the finished product carries a visual message about social distancing into the future some 120 years. Mr. Garthwaite certainly appears socially distanced from any person and is enjoying a fine social distancing activity--reading!

The book's publication date and some genealogy research on Garthwaite help date the bookplate to circa 1901. John Woodroffe Garthwaite was born in 1882 in Oakland, California. If he acquired the book in the year of its publication, he would have been about 18 or 19 years of age. He appears to be about that age in the photograph

Besides a coincidental scene that speaks to isolation today, the particularly interesting thing about this bookplate is the choice for the image's medium--photography. When you think of bookplates, particularly from more than a century ago, engraved images or illustrated designs come to mind. A photographic bookplate circa 1900 seems quite unusual to me because I cannot find any other examples of one. Surely there are, but digging around the Internet with various combinations of keywords for other examples has yielded nothing for my efforts so far.


I also find the image's setting interesting. While many graphic designs include an image of a personal library or collection of books, the young man, or whomever originated the idea, decided against a still-life illustration in favor of a photograph that evokes action--the physical activity of reading a book.

The natural world of the meadow may have played a part as it did in the Art Nouveau style of that time. From roughly the 1890 to World War I, Art Nouveau influenced artistic endeavors from graphic design to architecture. Many illustrated bookplates from that era reflect flora and fauna of the natural world.

Whatever the influence or reasons for producing such an interesting bookplate more than a century ago, I'm glad it was created and found its way into the twenty-first century in fine condition. Handel has not fared so badly either.




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