Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Bookworm ripples

We learned earlier this week on Book Patrol, the long-time bibliophile favorite painting known as The Bookworm by Carl Spitzweg is coming up for sale.  Maybe.  Apparently there are three versions of the painting by Spitzweg.  The one potentially coming up for sale is currently held by the Milwaukee Public Library.  They have *not* come out and said they were definitely selling, just that it was something they were considering.

I wondered if this one was the one that hung at Leary's Book Store in Philadelphia.  Leary's is remembered fondly and well by throngs of bibliophiles, and many remembrances can be found online.  It closed in 1968 after operating for "nearly 100 years" and the building was torn down.   The quotes are because no one is quite 100% sure when Leary's was founded, but their history as a book selling operation certainly goes back well over 100 years.

Leary's has a long history, and its archives are preserved at Temple University.  I had no experience at Leary's being born a decade after it closed, very, very far from Philadelphia, but sounds like a place I would have loved to visit.  500,000 books?  Road trip worthy!

1893, Leary, Stuart & Co.
So I dug into my question about the painting, remembering it from Leary's related ephemera.  A cursory search online revealed (to me, and maybe I'm wrong!!), that Leary's didn't actually own a copy of the painting, but rather appropriated the image.  They had a stained glass window created for the store interior, and incorporated the image as a huge sign on the exterior of the building.  The sign, when sold at auction was acquired by the Gale Research Company where it went to Detroit.  I wonder if its still there.  Or with whoever owns Gale Research now.

1902, Leary, Stuart & Co.
I know I can't afford the Milwaukee library painting's auction estimate of $400,000 (and I wouldn't be surprised if it went for more), but nearly anyone can afford cool Leary's ephemera from their good-ol-days featuring the work!  
1955 postcard featuring The Bookworm
hung from mezzanine
On an unrelated note, I hope this post didn't frighten anyone thinking I was long gone.  I won't get into gory details (this is a book collecting blog!), but shortly after the last post in Dec. 2012 my life exploded, what remained imploded, and then flipped upside down.  I've been rebuilding since, wandering in exile.  I'll be landing in Lincoln, Nebraska (my hometown) this July, and hope to get settled in quickly, and maybe even get to posting here again on occasion!  I'd like that.

The Bookworm sign on the exterior of Leary's in 1920.


Chris said...

Hey, nice to see you posting again! I love that painting, and it is fascinating to look at all the ways it has been used in the book world.

Book Hunter's Holiday

Mitch said...

I think I may own the bookworm painting that hung above the mezzanine. How do I find out??

Benjamin L Clark said...

Mitch -- you didn't leave your email, so I hope you revisit this post -- I'm not sure though! Searching auction records hasn't helped. I'm not sure. Anyone know?