Wednesday, February 23, 2022

551. A Daphnis and Chloe Provenance (3)

The final episode on the provenance of the copy of Daphnis and Chloe in the collection of Arizona State University Library deals with the older bookplate of Charles Plumtre Johnson that was pasted into the book first, and later partly covered by Sperisen's ex libris (see blog 550) and Ricketts's postcard to Walker (see blog 549).

Arthur Robertson, Bookplate for Charles Plumptre Johnson (1889)

It is a rather nineteenth-century image, dated 1889, in which various neo-styles evoke the atmosphere of a cosy spacious reading room with fireplace, an oil lamp attached to a lectern with the ex libris inscription, a seated woman, a standing child, and a relaxed girl, all handling rather large-format books. To the left and right, books stand and lie, displayed, stacked or set aside. 

The ex libris, signed with the initials 'AR', was drawn by the  artist Arthur Robertson (1850-1911). [Brian North Lee wrote an engaging article about him for The Bookplate Magazine of March 1992.]

Fortunately, the name of the book's original owner has been given the less common middle name of Plumptre. Charles Plumptre Johnson can be identified quite easily as the son of Sir George Johnson (1818-1896), Physician-Extraordinary to Queen Victoria.

Charles Plumptre Johnson (1853-1938) was a yachtsman - for his yachting career see Maritime Views. However, he was also a bibliophile, a bibliographer of note, and an author of several books on collecting first editions of Dickens and Thackeray. Educated at Marlborough and matriculated at the London University in 1872, he was admitted a solicitor in 1876. At the end of his professional career, he was a director of the Law Fire Insurance Society.

Charles Plumptre Johnson by Bassano Ltd,
whole-plate glass negative, 20 April 1921
[National Portrait Gallery: NPG x120938]
(Creative Commons License)

He was a member of the Sette of Odd Volumes as early as 1891 and inscribed copies of this bibliophile society's publications are now in the Norman Colbeck Collection. He collected modern literary works, water-colours and prints of boats, and he donated his collection of Gilbert and Sullivan, including manuscripts, to the British Museum. Given in 1935, the collection was exhibited in the King's Library in 1936.

Initially, he lived in London at 14, Cavendish-Place, but he relocated to Sevenoaks in Kent in 1911 after acquiring the Park Grange Estate where he lived until his death in 1938. He bequeathed the house and estate to the Sevenoaks School of which he had been a stern supporter for years. His fortune amounted to £340.000 of which large sums went to hospitals, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, and the school.

On Monday 1 June 1942, Sotheby's organized the auction of his book collection: 'Printed Books, comprising sets of First Editions in fine Bindings of Charles Dickens, W.M. Thackeray, A. Trollope and many other famous English Authors, of the late Charles Plumptre Johnson ESO’ (Times, 19 May 1942). Newspaper reports also mentioned works by Walter Scott, Tobias Smollett, R.L. Stevenson, Thomas Hardy and J.M. Barrie: 'Some of them are accompanied by autograph letters of the novelists, as in the case of Barrie, who discloses that "in a vague sort of way Jamieson, who edited the Scottish Dictionary was the original Little Minister". There are 32 first editions in the Stevenson set, 74 volumes of Scott, 131 of Thackeray, 136 of Dickens (including 54 of Dickensiana), 51 of Hardy, and 32 of Smollett. A first edition of Sherlock Holmes, inscribed and signed by Conan Doyle is another rarity in the saleroom. It was published in 1894.' (The Scotsman, 19 May 1942).

But there must have been an earlier auction of his library. Bookseller and collector Norman Colbeck (1903-1988) remembered this in 1968:

[...] on his death I attended the sale (held by Maples) in his residence, Park Grange, Sevenoaks – a lovely manor house looking down on Knole Park. The occasion was indeed the most unforgettable event in my life as far as book sales are concerned: and though I do not suppose anybody present was more sensitive than I to condition in books of the eighteen-nineties, I am sure there are several collectors still living who recall those days as vividly as I do.
(A Bookman’s Catalogue. The Norman Colbeck Collection of Nineteenth-Century and Edwardian Poetry and Belles Lettres in the Special Collections of The University of British Columbia. Compiled with a Preface by Norman Colbeck. Edited by Tirthankar Bose, with an Introduction by William E. Fredeman. Vancouver, University of British Columbia Press, 1987, p. xxi.)

Unfortunately, I have not seen a catalogue of these auctions, but I assume that Daphnis and Chloe, an edition from the 1890s, was auctioned at the first auction in the house of the collector Charles Plumptre Johnson.