Mapping our World bookplates

Part 1 of a series on these fascinating provenance labels

This is the first of two blog posts on a couple of mysterious bookplates found in some of books included in the National Library’s exhibition, Mapping Our World: Terra Incognita to Australia, which closes on March 10.

Bookplates, the printed labels of ownership pasted on the inside the front cover of a book, are a fascinating subject in their own right and a wonderful source for provenance history. The catalogue for the exhibition will include as much information as possible about the history of the books that will be included in the exhibition. For some of these books, we have little or no information about the past history of the books before they entered the National Library’s collection.

 This first blog post covers the most modern of these two intriguing bookplates. It appears in the Library’s copy of a book by Melchisédech Thévenot (1620?-1692), Relations de Divers Voyages Curieux (Paris, 1663). This book entered the Library as part of the collection of Rex Nan Kivell, but we have no information about how he acquired it. Nan Kivell (1898–1977) was a New Zealander who lived in England and began collecting in the 1920s.

Alongside Nan Kivell’s bookplate is a second bookplate, an etching commissioned by Irma Roth from the Austrian artist Arthur Paunzen (1890–1940), who worked in Vienna, but fled in 1938 for Britain. He died in internment on the Isle of Man. Using a low powered binocular microscope in our Preservation section, we were able to identify him from his tiny and partly illegible signature, and the fact that he produced other bookplates.

Close up of Arthur Punzen’s signature

Here is Irma Roth’s ex libris bookplate:

Irma Roth bookplate depicting a pyramid-like hill, surrounded by a circular band of symbols

We are aware of only one book with an Irma Roth bookplate, a copy of:

 Etzliche, zu fernerem nachdencken movirte politische und historische discursen, was von des tyrannischen Türckens jetzigem einbruch und weiteren progressen in künfftigen jahren, muthmasslich zu halten sey? Nechst darstellung seiner stats-ration zu kriegen, und wie demselben füglichst zuwiderstehen? Wittenberg : In verlegung D.T. Mevii erben und E. Schumachers, 1663.

It is in the collection of the Newberry Library in Chicago. They acquired it in 1946 from the London antiquarian bookseller Ifan Kyrle Fletcher (1905-1969), who listed this book as item 207 in his catalogue no. 84. Fletcher was Welsh, and had a strong interest in theatrical history, which doesn’t suggest any further leads.

The 1946 date of sale of the Newberry’s book and her name suggests Irma Roth may have been a Jewish émigré, but we know nothing else about her, the strange pictograms in the circular border (probably astrological symbols), or the landscape depicted in her bookplate.

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