Collecting bookends

Crafted from metal tubing or Murano glass, the vintage bookend is making a collective comeback, says Ming Liu

c1950s Carl Auböck brass chevrons, $1,875 from Hamel20
c1950s Carl Auböck brass chevrons, $1,875 from Hamel20 | Image: Pete Mauney

Shelved or stacked? Ordered alphabetically or by colour? In our Kindle culture, books continue to be an eminent element of modern-day life, with their display a focal point within the home. “People often want to celebrate their book collections,” says Jodi Pollack, Sotheby’s co-worldwide head of 20th-century design. “There’s also a move towards layering in interiors, with eclectic eye-catching objects. Bookends are perfect for this – embellishing spaces with something artistic on a small scale.”  

1932 Walter von Nessen nickel-plated-brass cats, $1,250 from Hamel20
1932 Walter von Nessen nickel-plated-brass cats, $1,250 from Hamel20

The choice of style and theme for this decorative punctuation mark is vast. One starting point is blue-chip names. Take Tiffany Studios, for example: a c1915 pair of brass and favrile-glass bookends sold for $3,250, against an estimate of $800-$1,200, at Sotheby’s in 2017. The auction house also sold a pair of c1910 sculptural, patinated-bronze arching cats; more unusual in style for the storied American studio, they fetched $21,250 in 2016, when four years earlier a near-identical pair had sold for just half that at Christie’s

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“Animal-motif bookends are among the most popular with collectors,” says Pollack, who cites French ironworker Edgar Brandt as a name to look out for – online dealer Pamono is offering an art deco pair of Brandt pelicans for £7,173. Another is the French sculptor Ary Bitter, whose bronze elephants often fetch five figures (an early-20th-century pair with horn tusks is available from 1stdibs for £30,739). In the hands of German industrial designer Walter von Nessen, however, animal forms are given a witty art deco twist, with horses (£1,705 from 1stdibs) and cats ($1,250 from New York dealer Hamel20) fashioned from plumbing-like tubes in nickel-plated brass. Other abstract curvy and circular forms by  the designer for the Chase Brass & Copper Company are also desirable, with examples available from NYC Modern ($2,500) and Art Deco Collection ($1,000). 

c1960-1970 Murano-glass apple and pear, $600 from 1stdibs
c1960-1970 Murano-glass apple and pear, $600 from 1stdibs | Image: 1stdibs

Bookends really came into their own in the art deco era, notes Sussex-based dealer Jeroen Markies. “They were popular gifts and were usually displayed on a desk or sideboard to showcase just a small selection of special books,” he explains. “French and Austrian examples tend to do well.” Markies recently sold a striking c1930 French set of stylised dolphins in turquoise- and green-hued pâte de verre by Auguste Houillon for £4,650.  

c1920s Edgar Brandt iron pelicans,  £7,173 from Pamono
c1920s Edgar Brandt iron pelicans, £7,173 from Pamono | Image: Pamono and Deconamic

One Austrian maker with a cult following is the modernist Carl Auböck, whose pared-back midcentury designs are still produced in his original Viennese workshop (and available on Matchesfashion.com; brass triangle bookends, £475). Chic c1950s chevrons ($1,875 from Hamel20) and Barbara Hepworth-esque curved forms or T-shapes (£616 from 1stdibs) are wrought in patinated and polished brass – some coiled with cane. Another Austrian name to note is Karl Hagenauer, whose rare c1928-1930 nickel-plated-brass bookends ($1,100 from Hamel20) depict jumping fish in high art deco style. 

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Art deco examples also prevail at London’s Pullman Gallery, whose top‑drawer 1930s stock ranges from patinated-bronze cats (£4,500) – “they’re very heavy, very useful and humorous too,” says owner Simon Khachadourian – to a stylish depiction of a racing-car hill climb (£2,800), mounted on ebonised wood. A similar model was recently bought by a motoring enthusiast. “I love the theme,” he says. “They sit on my desk, guarding each end of my collection of vintage car travel and touring books.”

Another, more unusual Pullman offering (£5,500) combines oak plinths with glass panels graphically engraved with black and red enamel signs of the zodiac; it is signed Paul Dupré-Lafon, an eminent French designer and famed Hermès collaborator. An identical design sits in the London office of jewellery designer Carolina Bucci. “I have never counted my bookends, but must have 20 or 30 sets scattered around,” she says, adding that most adorn the library of her home in upstate New York. “There are rock and stone ones, and a series that belonged to my great uncle, most of which are made from a turquoise stone. They are quite decadent.” Bucci’s collection has also inspired her to create her own bookends: smart spherical Carrara marble forms that can be engraved with personal text. 

For cocktail connoisseurs, a pair of 1968 glass ice-cube bookends, with an ice tong on one end (sold at the Pullman Gallery for an undisclosed price), evince a cool Studio 54 vibe. Bookends feature prominently in the collection of Italian glass works belonging to the graphic designer and photographer Javier Laracuente, an aficionado of Murano glass. “I love the colours, shapes and variety of the designs,” he says. It’s a passion he has turned into a business, Svazzo Arts, which sells mainly 1940s to 1960s pieces on 1stdibs. His current stock ranges from voluptuous apples and pears ($600 per pair) and abstract “blobs” ($565) to pop-art-style blocks encasing rainbow ribbons (£950) and bottle-like forms ($1,200) made with uranium glass, which glows neon green. These last are, says Laracuente, “very sculptural, so I display them on their own, just back to back.” In the age of the e-book, it seems, there’s still space for a beautiful bibliophile object or two.

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