Thomas Smith’s Bookplate – Where Art and History Merge

By Holly Hurd-Forsyth, Collections Manager & Registrar

Bookplate from Annaei Senecae Tum Rhetoris Tum Philosophi..., Geneva, 1620 (S.C. 843)

Bookplate from Annaei Senecae Tum Rhetoris Tum Philosophi…, Geneva, 1620 (S.C. 843)

MHS staff are continually reviewing and researching the collections and (re)discovering wonderful things.

A beautiful, very early, and very rare, printed bookplate pasted into the front of one of our Special Collections volumes recently drew attention.  It reads “Thomas Smith, Hunc Librum Vendicat. Anno. Dom MDCCVII” which translates to “Thomas Smith Claims This Book in the Year of Our Lord 1707.” The words are surrounded by a woodcut border of flowers, including roses and thistles. The boldness of the design combined with the early date, and the name “Thomas Smith” warranted further investigation.

As it turns out, this book belonged to Thomas Smith (1678-1742), a merchant in Boston and the father of Parson Thomas Smith (1702-1795) who was the first minister of the first church in Portland (then Falmouth). Parson Smith served as minister for 68 years, until he died in his early 90s. His journals were published in 1849, and provide a valuable window into early to mid-18th century Portland.

The bookplate itself is important. Sinclair Hamilton, the preeminent scholar of early American printing and book illustration proclaims it “…is probably the first ornamental American bookplate” and demonstrates the advancement of the art of woodcut printing in the American colonies.

The book (S.C. 843: Annaei Senecae Tum Rhetoris Tum Philosophi…, published in Geneva in 1620) was a gift of Florence Codman of New York City in 1958. 

For more information on bookplates, see this Maine Memory Network online exhibit, Bookplates Honor Annie Louise Cary, developed by the Cary Memorial Library in Wayne.

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