Thursday, May 3, 2012

Mayflower Power, Part 2

In my earlier research on the late 19th C horticulturist John Lewis Childs (1856-1921), I came across a few of his illustrated bookplates in a collection at the Harold T. Clark Library in Cleveland. An astute library volunteer by the name of Rebecca Molton-de-Greeff had discovered a collection of Childs' books on ornithology and noticed they each had a different bookplate attached with hand-lettered and hand-painted images of birds. Her research lead her to Childs colorful career as "a successful businessman and politician whose love of nature influenced both his business and leisure pursuits".
      As I mentioned in my previous post, Childs began the first seed catalog business in the US and published The Mayflower magazine which were both widely distributed. He also had one of the finest private ornithology libraries in the US which included Audubon's rare Birds of America. Molton-de-Greeff's research also lead her to the blog of Lew Jaffee, who is a self-confessed bookplate junkie. He has 3 of Childs' scarce bookplates in his own collection: they contain a flower, and insect and a frog seen here. Jaffee speculated that the artists Childs hired to illustrate his colorful seed catalogs were likely responsible for the bookplate illustrations as well. His assumption was also confirmed by a contact at the Floral Park Historical Society on Long Island where Childs' seed and bulb business first began. Although this bookplate artist is long forgotten, they claimed there were many artists employed by Childs over the years, including one who lived on-site to help publicize his botanical merchandise.
      These unnamed illustrators and letterers were some of the first and finest commercial artists in the US. When Childs created one of the very first publishing empires in NY, he likely provided these gifted artists their first start at a career. (I give Childs credit for recognizing and encouraging their talents too.) I suspect many were untrained, but may have been influenced by sign makers, printers and typesetters of the day. The late 19th century was truly the golden age of typography and printing in the US and I do wish there was more of a public record of these amazing artists who helped make it so. I am however, very grateful for the beautiful archive of some of their work seen below. This and more are now included in the incredible digital archive of the Smithsonian

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