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.
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.
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.
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.