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The Bookplates of Notable Jewish Americans

August 15, 2023
by Megan Scauri

It’s no secret that books in a special collections library very often aren’t new – many of the books in our rare collection had a long and storied life before finding their forever home at AJHS. Sometimes these past lives are a mystery, but in many cases previous owners have left their mark in one way or another – giving us clues to a book’s provenance, or ownership history. A bookplate was often designed or commissioned by the book lover, and was usually affixed to the book’s endpapers. Bookplates can range from very simple, with just the owner’s name, to more ornate, often engraved with a decorative design, sometimes incorporating images, symbols, or mottos that reflected something about the book owner. For example, Clarence S. Nathan’s bookplate is engraved with a Gomez coat of arms, reflecting the fact that he is descended from the Gomez family on his mother’s side. This takes on a particular resonance as the bookplate appears in a book written by Isaac Gomez, the patriarch of the family. Bookplates, also known as Ex Libris (Latin for “from the library of”), owing to their beauty as well as their utility in tracing a book’s provenance, have become collectible objects in their own right, and can increase a book’s desirability. Here are a few of the book plates found in our collection. 

1. Joseph Samuel C.F. Frey. Joseph and Benjamin : a series of letters on the controversy between Jews and Christians : comprising the most important doctrines of the Christian religion. New-York : Daniel Fanshaw, 1842.
Bookplate: Solomon Solis Cohen
Bookplate: A.S.W. Rosenbach to AJHS
Rosen BT1120 .F7 1842 

2. Thomas Brown. The history of the destruction of the city and temple of Jerusalem, and of the ruin and dispersion of the Jewish nation : being a narrative of the calamities which befel the Jews within about forty years after their crucifixion of Jesus Christ… Albany : Published by Dr. Thomas Brown, 1825.
Bookplate: William Wallace
Inkstamp: Tod Cloney
Inscription: Mary Jane Lougheed
Rosen DS122.8 .B76 1825

3. Isaac Leeser, ed. The law of God : containing the Book of Numbers. Philadelphia : Printed by C. Sherman, 5605 [1845]. 
Bookplate: Alfred Leeser Newhouse 
Bookplate: AJHS “From the collection of Solis-Cohen, Jacob da Silva” 
Bookplate: “In memory of Joseph and Abigail Newhouse This book is given to the Congregation Mikveh Israel of Philadelphia by the Misses Newhouse Date Ab 11, 5686 July 22, 1926” 
RARE BS715 .L22e

4. Joseph Samuel C. F. Frey. The converted Jew, or, Memoirs of the life of Joseph Samuel C.F. Frey, who was born a Jew, but is now a minister of the Gospel in London… Boston : Samuel T. Armstrong, 1815. 
Bookplate and inscription: Willard Harvey Gildersleeve 
RARE BV2623.F73 A31 1815b 

5. Isaac Gomez. Selections of a father : for the use of his children : in prose and verse. New-York : Printed by Southwick and Pelsue, no. 9 Wall-Street, 1820. 
Bookplate: Clarence S. Nathan 
Inscription: Miss Hetty Maria Gomez 
RARE AC4 .G56 1820 c.2 

6. H.H. Milman. The history of the Jews : from the earliest period to the present time. New York : Published by J. & J. Harper, 1830. 
Bookplate: Rabbi S.M. Neches 
Inscription: Alex. Young 
RARE DS117 .M65 1830 

7. Emma Lazarus. Poems and translations. New York : Printed for private circulation, 1866. 
Bookplate: Gift of Leon Huhner 
RARE PS2233 .P6 1866c 

8. H. Sacher, Leon Simon, and S. Landman, eds. Zionist pamphlets [Series 1]. London : The Zionist, 1915-1916. 
Bookplate: N.I. Adler 
DS149.A1 P3