The First American Bookplate, Reconsidered

Prompted by a question raised at Rare Book School a couple of weeks ago, I blogged about what might be the first American bookplate. Since then, some further ideas and opinions give reason for reconsideration.

Lew Jaffe, who runs Confessions of a Bookplate Junkie, commented: “The question is simple enough but the answer is more complicated...Once you start delving into early 18th century American bookplates you are probably dealing with Anglo-American plates from the libraries of royal governors and large land holders like Lord Baltimore. Most of the bookplates were not dated so I suspect your quest is a major research project.”

David Szewczyk of Philadelphia Rare Books & Manuscripts Co. gently chastised me for the Anglo-centric use of the word “American.” He wrote, “Libraries, both institutional and private, existed in Spanish America more than 100 years before they did in the English colonies. The earliest bookplates for Mexico, as far as we know (but much research is still needed) are in books that belonged the Jesuit establishments and were a woodcut stamp on pieces of paper that were affixed to pastedowns and other blank areas. Other times the stamp was simply used as a stamp. These date from as early as the 1580s.”

And, Steve Ferguson, the curator of rare books at Princeton, sent me a PDF of a 1949 article in The New Colophon called “A Seventeenth Century Book-Label Problem,” in which Edward Naumburg Jr. makes the claim that Steven Day’s printed book label bearing his own name is not, in fact, the earliest American book label. He reveals several reasons why he believes this to be the case; mainly, it seems, because the fleur-de-lis type ornament used was “not found until 1693 in America, but prevalent in England at the time of his label.” Instead, Naumberg writes, “the earliest authentic dated American book-label, printed by Samuel Green on Steven Day’s press at Cambridge” is that of Samuel Phillips May 31 1652 (twelve years after the Bay Psalm Book). It looks like this:

Screen Shot 2013-08-11 at 9.17.19 PM.pngThanks to those above for contributing to this conversation. Further comments and additions welcomed! 


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