Story: Paulette Pearson | Styling: Mandy Keener |
As the son of a librarian, Jim Rule developed a passion for antique books at an early age. In the nearly 30 years since he began his collection, it naturally evolved to include bookends, which may play a supporting role but have a rich and interesting history all their own. Rule’s Antiques and Fine Books, located at I-40 Antique Center in Maumelle, now features upwards of 60 pairs.
Quite simply, their main function is to hold up books. At the beginning of the 19th century, when books were printed on an industrial scale and the public’s libraries began to grow, so too did their desire for different means of displaying and accenting them. In the United States, factories like The Bradley & Hubbard Manufacturing Company responded, adding bookends to a line of products that already included clocks and sewing machines.
These first varieties were often made in the Arts and Crafts style, an important architectural and decorative movement through the first few decades of the century. Many were cast iron with busts of renowned authors, politicians or philosophers, and engraved with quotations. They had an inspirational quality that helped “to put you in mind of some greater idea or meaning,” Rule says, as readers sifted through their libraries.
With the 1930s came the rising Art Deco influence, evident in the stylized form of a pair of horse heads in Rule’s collection. Others are Art Nouveau, many of which, including the Mayflower, were produced by art metal manufacturer Pompeian Bronze Co. Varying production techniques throughout the industry included wrapping metal over plaster, and utilizing spelter, a substitute for bronze. True bronze bookends, made in very limited numbers, are rare and valuable collectibles today.
A savvy collector, Rule keeps an eye out for the work of artists commissioned by these companies to design bookends that were as beautiful as they were functional; one such notable artist was Maxfield Parrish. Rule also notes that many were designed in keeping with the topics of the genres of the works they enclosed. Philosophical pieces, for instance, might have bookends related to weightier matters or ideas, while children’s were more playful.
Rule, whose bookbindings feature supple leather and gold engraving, is a firm believer that you can in fact judge a book by its cover. But bookends have a story to tell too. “They don’t require the upkeep that books do,” Rule says. “They have a job to do, and they do it very quietly.”
Advice from Jim Rule of Rule’s Antiques and Fine Books
• The three main factors determining value are condition, scarcity and material.
• The best sources for bookends are antique malls and shows.
• Among the most coveted are those produced by Armor Bronze, which Rule says “are very well-done and collectible.”
• Don’t buy damaged bookends and refrain from touching up flaws, which can detract from resale value.
• “It doesn’t pay to have them repaired unless they’re by a famous artist or quality bronze,” Rule says. In that case, consult with an art restoration expert.
Plus, an online exclusive!
Tips from Louis Kuritzky of the National Bookend Collectors Club
• Do not buy single bookends.
It is very difficult to find a good match. Most of the bookends in which you will be interested are 75-100 years old, and when exposed to the elements, their surface appearance changes accordingly. So, unless you like the thrill of the hunt to find an exact match, it is often simply too difficult to do.
• Do not purchase bookends with any major damage.
…unless they are at a dramatic reduction in price. The corrollary to this is that since these items are decades old, don’t expect them to be perfect either.
• Obtain and carry with you a good reference book.
You don’t want to get too excited and overpay for a set just because you haven’t seen them before; look them up in the book (or consult an expert) before over-spending.
• Buy the best you can afford.
Early in collecting, many collectors gravitate towards the least expensive sets. Typically within a year or two of collecting, the ‘ordinary’ sets you purchased lose their attraction, and it is the ‘remarkable’ sets that hold their allure. In general, you’ll probably be much happier in the long run with one pair of really nice $200 bookends than four pairs of ‘ok’ bookends.
• Learn where to meet other collectors.
There is an international bookend collectors club, and many collectors enjoy meeting one another, sharing their collections, trading, etc.
For more information, contact Louis Kuritzky of the Bookend Collectors Club by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. A color newsletter is sent out quarterly.