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The Paper Chase for Literary Emphemera
Part II: The Story of a Bookplate

Buying and Selling Ephemera Series

by Michele Behan

#108, 19 November 2007

Perched on a shelf in an antiques store, the 1930s volume lacking a dust jacket looked like any other nondescript book of its era. Years of exposure to sunlight, together with the household dust that tends to float wherever people gather, had darkened the spine to the point that the red block lettering was difficult to read. I pulled out the book to examine its cover, but, alas, no title.

There was nothing left for a book addict to do but open the book to peruse the title page. I flipped the cover open and there, on the front pastedown, I saw it no, not the title, but the bizarre bookplate of A. Herr Brubaker.

The book, a common 1934 printing of Renoir: An Intimate Record by Ambroise Vollard, would have gone back on the shelf immediately were it not for the strangely compelling bookplate. A nude man, arms extended and hands aloft upon which rested a huge book labeled One Mind To Another, stood with legs wide apart while two fierce dragons pressed on either side of him and flames burned between his feet.

While doing the research for Part I of this series on Literary Ephemera, I became extremely interested in bookplates as an art form, so seeing this bizarre bookplate immediately piqued my curiosity.

Who was A. Herr Brubaker? Did he design this bookplate himself? If not, why did he choose this unusual design for his personal bookplate? The classically nude man was a common Art Deco theme, popularized by Rockwell Kent, but the inclusion of flames and dragons hinted at a deeper meaning.

I purchased the book solely for the bookplate and brought it home for further research. That evening, I searched the internet for A. Herr Brubaker and was rewarded with a link referencing a mysterious "Brubaker Project."

My eyes eagerly devoured any crumb of information about my bookplate and so I read, "My dad recently asked me to send him a link to the website I'd set up a few years ago, to document the art of my grandfather, Amos Herr Brubaker ...."

So, A. Herr Brubaker was Amos Herr Brubaker - and he was an artist! This was getting better and better.

Through a series of dead links (the Brubaker website had apparently been hosted on a free service that subsequently expired) and enigmatic blog posts, I finally was able to locate the brains behind the "Brubaker Project" - Ben Ullman, grandson of Amos Herr Brubaker and himself a graphic designer.

I solicited information from Ben about his grandfather, the man whose name adorns my bookplate, and Ben was extremely helpful.

Amos H. (Bud) Brubaker was born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in 1913, the son of a blacksmith. He got his start in commercial art as a young man, working at Hunt's Casino Theater on a pier in Wildwood, New Jersey, painting and lettering signs and billboards for upcoming attractions.

Brubaker dabbled in watercolors, but by the time he moved to Atlantic City in his late 20s, his style had evolved into abstract art. He met his future wife at DuPont's Atlantic City boardwalk exhibit, where he was employed as an exhibit display artist, she as a model for DuPont, gaining fame as Miss Nylon at the 1939 World's Fair in New York, where DuPont introduced nylon stockings.

Brubaker was also involved with the artists of the WPA (Works Progress Administration) painting murals. He was stationed from 1940 to 1945 with the Army Air Corps at Santa Monica, California.

In 1955, he was employed with DuPont's in-house advertising department in Wilmington, Delaware where he continued his abstract painting and was the subject of the first one-man art show at the DuPont Experimental Station in 1959. Brubaker left DuPont in 1965 to open his own design studio. He died in 1976.

Although no one knows for certain, Ben's family believes that Amos Herr Brubaker designed his enigmatic bookplate himself.

Brubaker's son, Ben's uncle, said, "I've always thought that the biggest influence on his style was from the books he searched out ... I would often drive Mom and Dad to old book sellers in the area. He'd spend hours going through old books for anything about artists he was interested in. Besides book dealers, he also always enjoyed the art museums in Philly, New York, Baltimore and Washington. We had a lot of trips to museums when there was a show of one of his favorites. Picasso was definitely an artist he admired and knew a lot about. He had more books on Picasso than just about anybody else."

Brubaker's daughter, Ben's mother, had a humorous take on the subject, "It was Dad's adaptation of DaVinci's famous male front pose with astrological spheres. With his humor and skill, he turned the man around and mooned the viewer."

Ben is not convinced that the Brubaker bookplate is a variation of DaVinci's Vitruvian Man but has no ideas what the dragons and flames represent, "other than the fact that they look cool ...."

The bookplate mystery is still waiting to be solved, but finding the man behind the bookplate definitely adds a rich dimension to the quest.

A funny footnote to this story is that, when I found the bookplate, I thought it would make a wonderful contest entry for the Bizarre Bookplate Contest hosted by collector Lewis Jaffe on his blog.

However, not knowing my intentions, Ben beat me to the punch and entered his own copy of his grandfather's bookplate in the contest! Whether A. Herr Brubaker wins the contest or not, his bizarre bookplate will always be a winner in my book.

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark
editor@bookthink.com

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