|By Belladora Maria Ahumada
Technophiles may show off by reading the latest novel via their telephone, but real book lovers still seem to want to hold the printed page. Words can be printed on anything, but when you place it between a cover and hold it in your hands it beckons to all of the senses.
Bookends add to the enchantment, as they hold so much wonder between each end.
Books were first stacked flat. Those who were wealthy during the Renaissance probably had a collection of books stacked on their shelves. As the stacks grew, so did the shelves and books began to be placed upright rather than stacked flat. As a result, the need to keep the books from toppling over arose; hence the invention of bookends.
Early bookends may have only been a block of stone or piece of wood, but it was only natural that mankind would develop this need into an artistic object.
As advances in printing made books more affordable to the masses, those masses also wanted decorative bookends to contain their newfound treasures.
Bookends have been made to complement any décor, theme or whim. Now some people collect the bookends themselves, while others buy a few vintage sets to hold their collections. Bookends also have heavy crossover appeal to other collecting areas.
Cheryl Krumrine loves bookends and turned that admiration into a business selling them. “Bookends have always been a part of my life,” she said. “Growing up on Cape Cod, Mass, I was surrounded by antiques and books. The progression seems so natural that I don’t remember a real beginning. I’ve always collected things I found interesting. My primary interests and largest collections for the past 30 years has been clocks and bookends.
“Bookends are endlessly fascinating. They are like works of art — doubled. The subjects seem limitless. The more you get, the more you want. They are captivating. There are sets that are cute, stunning, humorous, sad, risqué, tragic, historical, and, to me, all incredibly interesting.”
Some of the more outstanding bookend makers included J.B. Hirsch, Jennings Brothers, K & O, Hubley, Marion Bronze Co., Bradley and Hubbard, Frankart Inc, Pompeian Bronze and Judd Manufacturing Co. Many of these firms also produced ashtrays, doorstops, letter holders and lamps. Some firms used the same designs for both doorstops and bookends.
There were several artists who are prized by collectors, including L.V. Aronson, Paul Herzel, Arthur Von Frankenburger, John Ruhl and P. Beneduce. Many of these artists worked for several different companies during the early 20th century when the production of bookends were experiencing something of a Golden Period.
“J.B. Hirsch was a phenomenal foundry with greatly talented artists as well as the old French molds,” Krumrine said. “They are getting more and more difficult to find. I’ve had communications from two of his grandchildren. They never realized how important their grandfather was in the bookend world. John Ruhl was an excellent artist who did work for several of the prominent foundries, very talented.
“J.B. Hirsch purchased a number of the French molds which featured ivory faces. In France they would have been made of bronze with real ivory faces, hands, etc. … I would kill to have the originals! He brought these molds back to America and made them predominantly in gray metal using celluloid faces, or, painted ivory. He was the most prolific producer of bookends using this method.”
The endless representation of bookends can confuse the novice collector or dealer.
“Many are sold as statues or sculptures because sellers don’t know they are bookends,” Krumrine said. “Only buy bookends in good condition. There are fakes; you should always be cautious.” Also, remember one bookend is worth much less than a complete set. “So buy that one bookend only if you can’t live without it,” she says.
Krumrine advises the beginning collector to collect what they like. “Buy from a reputable dealer who can give you advice” she says. “Many bookends have some sort of marking, others do not. Material composition is not what predominantly gives bookends their value. Just because a set is comprised of solid bronze does not give it more value than, for example, cast iron.”
One should look closely for sharp detail, grace and form of the subject.
“The varieties and subjects are seemingly endless,” she says. “Bookends come in many forms. Some have a completely flat side, others are figural with just a small area touching the books to be held.”
Krumrine, a long time collector, only recently become a dealer.
“When it came to the point that I needed to get rid of books to accommodate my bookends I decided to go into the bookend business, a rare profession indeed,” she says.
However, she readily admits there are some bookends she simply can’t do without:
“The spirit of my endeavor was to sell bookends, as well as create a platform to display my collection for others to view.”
Bookend collectors, like Krumrine, believe their passion will stand the test of time.
As the printed word begins to more commonly appear on a computer screen in the 21st century, there is nothing to replace the spirit of the author or the feel of fine leather held securely between a cherished set of bookends.
For more information
Cheryl Krumrine, www.antiquebookendshoppe.com
A Collector’s Guide To Cast Metal Bookends by Gerald P. McBride-Schiffer Publishing Ltd.