Monday, March 28, 2022

Detachment Disorder

Howard Pyle’s bookplate on the marbled pastedown endpaper of…what, exactly?

We may never know, because someone - a monster - conveniently detached the cover from the rest of the book. (Please don’t follow this example: it’s like cutting the signature off a letter then throwing the letter away.) I suspect, though, that it came from a uniform set of one of Pyle’s favorite authors - Jane Austen? Eugene Field? Robert Louis Stevenson? - as there are at least two other detached, half-morocco, marbled boards just like this one.

When Pyle made his own bookplate is, as yet, hazy. On January 9, 1902, he wrote: “I would be very glad to send you a bookplate if I had one but, upon the same principle that a shoemaker’s children go barefoot, my not invaluable library has, for all these years, gone without such accompanying decoration.”

For years Pyle had pasted a small paper label, featuring only his name engraved in script, into his books, but sometime after January 1902 he settled on this more elaborate design, which he painted - and hoped to reproduce - in full color. But the color version was unsatisfactory, so Pyle had a photogravure plate made instead, and had the bookplate printed in sepia.

Pyle’s Latin motto - ITA PRIMO, ITA SEMPER - was one he had used before, on THE WONDER CLOCK title-page, the frontispiece of TWILIGHT LAND, and perhaps elsewhere. Roughly translated, it means, “Thus first, thus always,” or “As it was in the beginning, so it will ever be.”

The original painting, by the way, now belongs to The Brandywine River Museum.

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