Of all the antiques that cross our path there is none more evocative than the venerable gilt lettered spine of a well-worn leather-bound book.
We’ve collected fine antique bindings for years, ever enamored by the texture and romance they bring a vignette whenever a dose of timeworn patina is called for.
It could be the fragile nature of their components, feather edged pages crisp with age, cracked jewel-toned leathers embossed with gold gilt lettering, and those richly marbleized endpapers that bespeak of romance.
Or perhaps it’s the intimate nature of a well-loved volume, an instant link to the past and those who owned, read, and cherished these delicate little gems that makes them unique among other antique collectibles.
After all, how many personal items are so ritualistically branded as a genuinely treasured tome? In fact, reading and researching the sometimes centuries worth of ‘ex libris’ bookplates is one of the unique pleasures of collecting antiquarian books.
For instance the rich ruby-red spines of the six volumes of the works of Alexandre Dumas display the neatly printed bookplates of one Doris Fletcher Ryer, later Nixon. Dating to 1906, the same year Miss Ryer was sent to school in Paris, where this set of French classics was purchased and elegantly embossed with her monogram in tiny gold gilt letters on each spin.
A simple internet search reveals Miss Ryer to be a fascinating character with her own wikipedia page touting an impressive resume of civic works including founder and president of Guide Dogs for the Blind, Inc., state commander of the California Cancer Society, and national vice-president of the American Women’s Voluntary Services during the Second World War.
Before assuming her role as a civil leader, the privileged young Miss Ryer freshly returned from what would prove to be a well-utilized European education, took up residence with her mother at Beachmond. The elegant Colonial Revival cottage in Newport, Rhode Island pictured above where she made her debut to society in 1915 before marrying the wealthy industrialist Stanhope Wood Nixon two years later.
The story doesn’t end there, as Doris and Stanhope’s first-born son Lewis Nixon III would become probably the most celebrated member of the family for his part in the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment during World War II as chronicled by historian Stephen Ambrose in his book later produced by Stephen Spielberg as the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. As you can see, some books have more tales to tell than those merely inscribed on their pages.
Styling and photos 1-5 by KS&D.