July 2020 | Rebecca Rego Barry

For Sale: “Tremendous Trove” of Vintage Bookplates

Courtesy of Swann Galleries

Pictorial or armorial, bookplates provide booksellers and book collectors with literal paper trails when trying to decode a volume’s provenance. But they can also be fascinating pieces of visual art that captivate collectors all on their own.

The vast collection headed to auction in New York on July 9 provides proof of this mania, an endearing offshoot of the “gentle madness” of book collecting. Comprising more than 750 eighteenth- and nineteenth-century engraved bookplates, ownership labels, and booksellers’ tickets organized and mounted in two volumes, the collection once belonged to Washington, D.C., collector Pickering Dodge, a “renowned 'Ex-Libris' collector and advocate,” according to Swann Galleries. Mostly American in origin, the examples present many different styles: Early Armorial, Jacobean, Chippendale, Ribbon and Wreath, Pictorial, Name Labels, etc. Engravers are often identified.

The auction house’s “brief and very much not in-depth accounting” of owners reveals some Declaration signers and Major Joseph Bloomfield, a Revolutionary War soldier and later governor of New Jersey. There’s also De Witt Clinton, John Quincy Adams, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, H.L. Mencken, and numerous other authors, statesmen, politicians, aristocrats, libraries, and societies, as well as a “very nice selection of women's plates.”

The collection is estimated to reach $2,000-3,000.