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Foundries that Changed Bookend Styles

States began mandating universal elementary school attendance in the late nineteenth century and Americans became literate. At about the same time, the cost of books began to decline due to technological advances. Less affluent Americans could now buy books to read and display as an indicator of their refinement. As home libraries grew so did the need for bookends.  Wealthy people with libraries and fancy shelving could hold up their books with a single bronze bust or statue.  A family with a modest income could purchase small shelves (book slides) for their fireplace mantles or chest tops.  Even better were 2 pieces that could hold up just one book or a expanding library.   Bookends began appearing as gifts or as decor around 1900 to meet a growing market.

Across America, but principally in the north east, foundries began producing bookends.  Most bookends were  made through sand casting (see our 2012 book for descriptions of casting methods), and bookends were primarily of the same “L” shaped genre.  Foundries utilized topical subjects and artists to decorate these bookends and to entice buyers. 

Three foundries will be given special mention here because they made novel contributions to bookend design or they were especially favored by the public.

KBW. “Admiration”. 9 inches. Electroform Bronze. 1914.

Kathodian Bronze Works (KBW) was active in New York City from about 1900 to about 1916.  They produced  bronze BOOK ROCKS (bookends), generally in Victorian style, by the electroform method, usually marked KBW or ARTBRONZ. Each bookend was clearly a work of art and pleasing to see, but this foundry did not stand out for artistic conception alone. As can be seen in the advertisement below, KBW Book Rocks were carried in fashionable stores all across the United States and its territories, from Boston to Hawaii.   In fact, Gustave Stickley, icon of the early Arts and Crafts movement in America, chose to retail KBW Book Rocks in his New York City furniture shop, The Craftsman.  The Stickley shop “NEW YORK, Gustave Stickley, The Craftsman”,  is listed at the top right among the “List of Exclusive Agencies” in the advertisement shown below.  Today KBW bookends are deservedly desirable.

Photo of KBW Advertisement

The Literary Digest for November 14, 1914

The J B Hirsch Foundry, established in 1907 and active until recently, gave us bookends with celluloid parts.  Celluloid parts mimicked the ivory parts that were used in high-end sculptures. and lent panache to bookends.  Celluloid, also referred to as Ivorine, is often denigrated now because it lacks the qualities of ivory, but all plastics were new and desirable in the early thirties.  Bakelite, for example, was used for jewelery. Best of all, bookends with celluloid parts could be mass produced.

J.B. Hirsch Bird. 6″ Gray Metal with celluloid beak and bakelite base. Circa 1932.

The Frankart company was founded by the artist Arthur Frankenberg in 1921.  The company produced a number of metal items, among which were bookends featuring young ladies of  outstanding appearance.  Prior to Frankart, ladies in artwork were generally modeled in Victorian style  with curvaceous bodies, frequently nude but with some device to avoid obscenity. For example, on the KBW “Admiration” bookends shown above, a watching frog imbues the sculpture with the beauty of nature.   Frankart ladies, by contrast, were slender, elfin nudes, cute, graceful,  and very well-received by the public, yet even here a frog is part of the depiction.  Today, these Frankart bookends are considered for their ART DECO appeal and sell for high prices.   Frankenberg left the company in 1930 and thereafter, Frankart bookends were frequently made from low quality pot metal which has steadily deteriorated since that time. Buyer beware.

Nude and Frog. 10.25″ gray metal. Inscription: Frankart Inc. and 1922 with a copyright symbol.

 

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Cow with Bell and Character, Dodge Inc.

Caricature  Cow: Height 6 in., Grey metal, Dodge Inc., paper label. Circa 1948.

This Cow is an udderly whimsical bookend.  She is giving you the side-eye look and appears ready to whip you with her fulsome tail or to sneak a quick kick with her oversized hoof if you try to approach those prominent milk teats.  

Cows and cows with bells have been memorialized in the news, fiction, comic, films, and advertising.  The American Dairy Association provides a list of famous cows.  Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow, whose legend supposes she kicked over a lantern and started the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. Pauline Wayne, the last cow to live at the White House and who is said to have provide President Taft and family with 9 gallons of milk a day and 25 lbs of butter a week.  Minnie Moo at Disneyland.  None of the 14 Cows listed completely fit a description of our bookend.  She most closely resembles Clarabelle, the Disney cow that was Minnie Mouse’s mostly silent sidekick.  Clarabelle was created in 1928, she wore a bell, she had an exaggerated nose, big ears, sometimes wore a hat or bow, and had a twitchy tail.  However, she was skinny.  

Check out this Paul Terry’s Barker Bill, animated cartoon of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow by clicking here. 

The American Dairy List of FAMOUS COWS OF THE WORLD can be accessed by clicking here. 

 

 
 

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Hand Crafted Owl Bookends

ARTS & CRAFTS OWL:  Oak and copper, ht. 6.5 in. circa 1910. Natural light shows the dull patina of age on the copper

The Arts and Crafts art style grew up in the last half of the nineteenth century, in England,  largely through the  efforts of the brilliant artist, William Morris.  The industrial revolution was sweeping England at that time, and  household objects designed for mass production rather than artistic merit were being produced.  In protest, the new style advocated graceful, functional objects , hand-made by the artist.  This style reached America at the dawn of the last century and these bookends show it to us.

A shaped piece of sheet copper is fastened to the face of each bookend by ball-head pins around the margin.  There is an image of an owl which has been chased into the copper.  A strip of sheet copper is pinned around the curved margin of each bookend with the chased letter R, presumably the monogram of the artist.The bookend is quarter-sawn oak, a decorative wood of that era with a metal foot nailed to the base for support.  The chased sheet copper, the pins, the quarter -sawn oak, and the choice of an owl image, all indicate early handwork in the Arts and Crafts style.

ARTS & CRAFTS OWL:  Oak and copper, ht. 6.5 in circa 1910. Flash photo highlights the gleaming copper illustrating how it would have looked when new.

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2020 in Animals, Art Styles, Literary

 

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1920s Exotic Woman Bookends

A very handsome woman is dressed in an exceptional costume and is reclining among beautiful robes.  She could be royalty, perhaps a queen or a princess, but the bookends do not hint at her status or origins.  We will call her Exotic Woman.

Exotic Woman: Gray metal. Height 4.5 inches. Marks: There is a Ronson company label glued to one felt. Circa 1925.

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2020 in Antiquity, Art Deco, Art Styles

 

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Bucking Bronco Cowboy Bookends

Rodeo Rider:  Gray metal. Height 6.5 inches Inscription:  Ronson, Newark NJ, 1942.

Cowboys riding bucking broncos are not unusual subjects for bookends.  Western themes were popular in home decor in the 1930s and 1940s.  Driven by the popularity of western movies everything from dinner sets to lamps for children’s bedrooms featured cowboys and bucking broncos.   These bookends are notable because they are marked Ronson 1942, and they are the last bookends Ronson produced, as far as we know.

The Philadelphia Manufacturing Company (PMC) issued reproductions of these bookends so collectors must look for the entire inscription on the base.

1942 Ronson’s Makers Mark on Rodeo Rider bookends.

 

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2019 in Art Styles, Mid-Century, Western

 

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Victorian Cupid Bookends

Cupid:  Height:  7.5 inches, Electroform bronze.  Production attributed to Paul Mori / Pompeian Bronze.  Attributed to sculptor M. Rotellini.  circa 1915.

Cupid (Eros) is the ancient Roman (Greek) God of desire, erotic love, attraction, and affection.  He was the son of Venus, Goddess of Love, and either Mars, Mercury or Vulcan.  He is winged because lovers are flighty and liable to change their minds.  He is a famous archer whose golden arrows cause uncontrollable desire, and whose leaden arrows quench desire and promote aversion.  Cupid appears in literature, theater, and art many times over centuries.  In paintings and sculpture he appears as a slender beautiful youth and as chubby toddler.  The chubby toddler is a popular Valentine’s Day subject.  Our Cupid, from the early 1900s, is a lovely depiction of a youth with his quiver of arrows, but no bow.  He is standing over a a formal flower bouquet that includes roses, a flower that features in classical tales about Cupid.

Click here to visit an earlier post about the sculptor M. Rotellini.

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2019 in Art Styles, Victorian

 

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The Spirit of St Louis Bookends

There is an abundance of bookends commemorating the historic 1927 flight of Charles LIndbergh across the Atlantic from Roosevelt Field, Mineola, NY to LeBourget Airport, France.  Lindbergh is captured in profile, in bust, in flying outfit, in front of the plane,…………..    

Photo of Spirit of St Louis bookends

Spirit of Saint Louis.  Iron, Height 5 inches. Inscription on the front:  FIRST NON STOP FLIGHT  NEW YORK TO PARIS MAY 21st TO 22nd 1927. TIME: 33HRS: 21MIN.  PILOTED BY CAPT. CHARLES A. LINDBERGH.  on the back:  WM P CO 1120.  circa 1927. (Note – the dates are wrong.)

This bookend, showing the Spirit of Saint Louis, reminds us that the historic significance of the flight was about more than just Lindbergh.  It was about a PRIZE and $$$, it was about GLORY, it was about ENGINEERING, and INGENUITY, and IMAGINATION, and it was about CELEBRITY and REPUTATION.  And it was a competitive race to be FIRST!

The Orteig Prize of $25,000 was originally offered in 1919 for the first non-stop flight from New York City to Paris, or the reverse, by an Allied Aviator.  Offered for 5 years there were no competitors.  It was re-offered in June 1925, and since aviation had made significant advances, a competitive field showed up.  Six aviators died in their attempts and others were hurt.  In 1927 there were several groups prepping for attempts at the prize, including one headed by polar explorer Richard E. Byrd.  April and May of 1927 found everyone gathering at Roosevelt Field and Curtis Field testing their planes and waiting for the right conditions for the flight. 

An Airmail pilot, Charles Lindbergh, managed to convince 9 Saint Louis, Missouri businessmen to back him;  and a small aeronautical firm in San Diego to deliver a plane, to his specifications, in sixty days.  He was convinced that a single-engine monoplane using a whirlwind engine could take him to Paris.  The “Ryan NYP” (for New York to Paris) was built.  On May 10 -12 he flew it to Curtiss Field on Long Island, NY, setting a new North American transcontinental speed record, stopping in St. Louis on the way.    Byrd offered Lindbergh the use of the longer Roosevelt Field runway.  Lindbergh takes off on May 20 and thirty-three and half hours later captures the Orteig Prize by landing in Paris on May 21.  

The plane designed by Donald A Hall and built in San Diego which carried Lindbergh to success now rests in the Smithsonian, while a reproduction built in 1978-79, the Spirit of Saint Louis 3, resides in the rotunda of the San Diego Air and Space Museum in Balboa Park.  Spirit 3 was last flown on the 75th anniversary of the 1927 flight. 

Photo of Spirit 3, Air and Space Museum, San Diego

Spirit of Saint Louis 3. Reproduction at the Air and Space Museum, Balboa Park, San Diego. It was flown on the 75th Anniversary of the original flight. The Bookend Collector, Bob Seecof, gives perspective to the plane’s size.

 
 

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Nude Flapper Bookends

Nude Flapper: Height: 5.5 inches, Gray metal, Attributed to Ronson, circa 1925.

Feminism was very topical in the nineteen twenties.  Young ladies wanted the free and easy lifestyle of men, including smoking, gambling, drinking and sexual contacts.  In order to look more like men they deemphasized breasts and cut their hair short.  Today we remember these young ladies as flappers: The origin of the term is uncertain, however, click here for a Geneva (New York) Historical Society blog post from 2013 with a pretty thorough summary of the etymology.  

Issued in the nineteen twenties, these bookend nudes show us the short feminist haircut of the era, called “the bob,” so we know she was a flapper.

Nude Flapper: Height: 5.5 inches, Gray metal, Attributed to Ronson, circa 1925.

 
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Posted by on May 11, 2019 in Art Deco, Art Styles

 

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VERY VICTORIAN BOOKENDS

Queen Victoria ruled Great Britain from 1837 to 1901.   England was arguably the most successful country in the western world during her reign, and Americans adopted many of England’s values for their own.  We know these values today as Victorian.  They were prominent here during Victoria’s reign and gradually faded as  the twentieth century progressed.

Many Americans still admire Victorian fashions  today and incorporate them into their house decor. We can learn some of these English fashions from American bookends produced early in the twentieth century.  Foundries in the United States produced Victorian subjects on bookends for display in fashionable American homes.

Altar of Love. Gray metal.  Height 5.5 inches.  Marked The Altar of Love and Pompeian Bronze. circa 1920.

The bookends entitled The Altar of Love  are completely devoted to illustrating Victorian values.  The title alone illustrates English devotion to the romantic and sentimental ideal of  enduring marriage as exemplified by the Royal marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.  We see the married couple embracing.  Their child, symbolizing reverence for children,  is at their feet.  A putto, popular in Victorian England, is blowing a trumpet to them.  Putti are ambiguous in their usage, but here probably represent peace and prosperity. In keeping with the Victorian penchant for Greek and Roman revival, the sacred flame of Vesta, the goddess of the hearth, is shown, and it will support the stability of the marriage.  The family dog is not forgotten, reminding us of the Victorian attachment to animals.

Boy and Snail. Electroform bronze.  Height 8 inches.  Marked Ghiglia (artist).  Foundry: Attributed to Paul Mori.  circa 1910. Very rare bookends.

Children were idolized in Victorian England and they appear frequently on American bookends from this period.   This pair features a charming nude little boy who would appeal to every Victorian.  There is a giant snail at his feet, which matches the Victorian fascination with rare, bizarre creatures.

Dante and Beatrix: Height 7 inches. Electroformed bronze. Marked with the Armor Bronze shopmark. circa 1920.

The story of Dante and Beatrice was very popular during the Victorian era. Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century epic poem Divine Comedy was widely read during Victorian times.  Dante loved Beatrice all of his life although he never had a physical relationship with her.  This was “pure love” for Victorians and superior to love with physical aspects.  At least it was superior for the English Bourgeoisie and this seems allied to their prudish behavior. We do not know if  the Aristocrats were concerned with pure love or with prudish behavior.  For example, adultery and mistresses were commonplace for them. American Victorians were noted to be prudes.  In any event,  Dante or Dante and Beatrice bookends were very fashionable here in the United States.  They were issued in a variety of poses by several different foundries, and we frequently find them today. We recounted the Dante and Beatrice story in both Bookend Revue and Bookends: Objects of Art and Fashion.  Here is a link to an updated version of the story on a blog devoted to Dan Brown’s novel, INFERNO.  

 

 
 

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THE SPINNING WHEEL: A Symbol of American Protest

 

Spinning Wheel Bookends: grey metal with faux ivory (celluloid) face and hands, bakelite base.  Height 6.5 inches. Marked J. Ruhl (sculptor John Ruhl,  1873-1940 ).  Attributed to Hirsch foundry.  circa 1930.  The drive wheel spins at a touch. 

In Colonial times, women spun fibers into yarn on spinning wheels and produced home-made clothing. As the colonies grew, production of wool and wool products allowed for export of these commodities to Britain and other nations.  In 1699 the British forbid their colonies to export wool products in order to protect their textile industry.  The effect of this WOOL ACT of 1699 was to force all commercially produced wool and wool products to be sold to England after which it was resold back to the colonies.  Colonial people then persevered in spinning yarn and producing cloth in order to protest against the Wool Tariffs imposed by Britain. 

The spinning wheel became an important, widespread symbol of resistance to British rule in the run-up to the American Revolution.   At that time, to quote from Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s The Age of Homespun (Vintage, 2001), “Only six newspaper stories explicitly described the spinners as ‘Daughters of Liberty.’ ‘Young women’ was the usual designation, though terms like ‘Daughters of Industry,’ ‘the fair sex,’ and even ‘noble-hearted Nymphs’ also appeared. Reports from Roxbury and Chebacco alluded to public events, referring to the ‘intolerable Burdens now Laid upon us’ and to the necessity of recovering ‘our rights, properties and privileges,’ but the story from Harpswell cautioned that ‘the Ladies are impressed with such a nice Sense of their Liberties derived from their Maker, as not to be very fond of the tyrannic Restraints or the scheming Partisans of any Party…’”

The art of spinning in the United States is kept alive by handicrafters who demonstrate their skill in spinning, weaving and sewing at nostalgic museums such as Williamsburg, Old Salem, and in exhibitions at fairs such as the San Diego County Fair in Del Mar.  Even as spinning has become an re-enactment art form and no longer provides a means of protest ……………..these bookends remind us of our early resistance to foreign domination. 

 

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