Lots of labels (pt.1)

August 20th, 2013 § 2 comments


As I’m finishing up surveying our Performing Arts Antiquarian Collection, I’ve started to go through the cellphone photos I’ve taken in terrible light of delightful collections. This is the first blog post of two on labels I’ve seen over many months. In this post I will share a broad range of label types, while a second post will examine more closely the cut pattern type of label at the top of this post  (the one above is from Abraham auf Moria by Johann Rolle M2003.R74A27 1785).

In our Performing Arts Antiquarian Collection many books have labels adhered to their front covers – particularly those from the late 18th and early 19th centuries from Germany and France. I have not seen this broad a range of labels on book covers for non-music collections. All of the books were hand bound and are not publisher’s bindings or bound as editions.

These pictures have been taken with camera phones in a dim basement – so the lighting and quality is awful. I apologize! At some point it would be great to document these further in better conditions with our lab camera, but I was taking pictures for my amusement not documentation or serious study. Click on the picture of the binding for a detail of the labels below.

Ownership labels tooled on leather are very common and often charming. Here are a couple examples I particularly like.

This label is from Nouvelle methode de harpe en deux parties by Robert Bochsa (MT542.B631no 1820).









I hope Madame Dufau’s harp studies went well. The volume below is from a score of Camilla : eine Oper in 3. Aktenby Ferdinando Paër (M1503 .P13c 1799):









I see this type of ownership label on scores, manuals, and collections of sheet music. Women’s names are as common as male names in our collections. As opposed to other labels to come, these are almost always tooled gold on leather – usually red, but green is not uncommon.

Another kind of label visible on books during this time period is a label on paper identifying the volume as part of a lending/rental library. I wrote an earlier post on this lovely binding of Jean Joseph Mondonville’s opera Titon et L’Aurore published in Paris in 1753 (M1500 .M745ti 1753).











An article available through the University of Nebraska’s Digital Commons tracks some of these libraries:  “Music Circulating Libraries in France: An Overview and a Preliminary List” by Anita Breckbill and Carole Goebesy.

In addition to ownership and library labels, we also find labels that simply identify the score and composer. These very simple labels are handwritten on usually white paper (though we have a couple colored paper examples as well).

Some labels have printed borders like this one below on Adrien Boieldieu’s La jeune femme colère (M1500 .B635je 1805):











This label was never filled out, but what a lovely border. The volume is a collection of sheet music for piano – maybe the label was never filled out as there were so many different pieces within (M35.G34R57 1815):









Next week, I’ll share examples of a specific type of paper label made from paper cut into patterns.

§ 2 Responses to Lots of labels (pt.1)"

  • Rachel says:

    Hello! I work in library conservation and have a project lined up to survey 19th c. American commonplace books. I have casually observed that some of these books have personalized, stamped labels as well. Do you know how these ownership labels, specifically the stamped leather, were personalized? For instance, were they stamped at a stationer’s at the time of purchase? I imagine whatever tradition was established in Europe followed to America, much like the writing of commonplace books. I plan to do some research, but if any information or resources come to mind, I would be most grateful to know. Many thanks. I’m so glad I stumbled upon your blog for a completely different reason (perhaps an email about that will follow). Thank you for your time.

  • Kristen St.John says:

    That sounds like a great project! I hope you share results.

    The question of where and when these labels were added is such a good one! And I don’t have a full answer for you. I think they likely were personalized at the time of purchase either from a stationers or from a binder if you were having your sheet music bound together. All of the materials, equipment and skills required to create the labels would be similar to what would be found in binderies, where they would be used to label or decorate much finer bindings.

    These books (with the exception of the Mondonville) are all inexpensively bound. It’s rare to see full leather bindings with leather ownership labels on the cover and I don’t think I’ve seen any paper (title/author) labels on full leather bindings (library labels being an exception). The leather ownership label is a way to personalize a significant purchase, but not luxury high-end binding.

    I think it would also be fun to track examples where labels have been removed and/or replaced by later owners (which might give more info on where and when labels were added). I’ve seen paper labels where information has been scratched out and I’d imagine you could find that with leather ownership labels – although I confess I can’t remember seeing it and haven’t got pictures of that.

    A couple sources for more information are A History of English Craft Bookbinding Technique by Bernard Middleton (Oak Knoll, 1996). He writes about “retail” bindings (page 286 ff) in the 18th and 19th centuries prior to the development of cloth covered publishers bindings and I think these books fall in that category. Another resource I’ve just started to use is Books Will Speak Plain: A Handbook for Identifying and Describing Historical Bindings by Julia Miller (the Legacy Press, 2010). She discusses labels, but mainly on spines, but I’m still reading through it. Her book would be really useful for you since she’s written a lot about early American binding.

    Hope that’s helpful and feel free to email me directly anytime! (kstjohn[at]library.ucla.edu). Good luck with your survey!

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