This image of a skeleton kneeling on a book is part of a set of ten bookplates. They reproduce on silk prints by several eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century wood engravers, including Thomas Bewick (1753-1828). Other subjects depicted in the set include Aesop’s fable of the fox and the stork; a medal portrait of the mathematician Charles Hutton, for whom Bewick illustrated a number of books; and a hunting scene, which was a topic Bewick often illustrated. Some of these wood-engravings were first printed on paper. It is probable that not all were intended to be used as bookplates as eight bear no name.
These bookplates were in the private collection of Philip Hofer (1898-1984), founder and first Curator of the Printing and Graphic Arts Department at Houghton. Over his career as curator and book collector, Hofer had a number of bookplates made for his collection. He also collected depictions of the Dance of Death and one of his bookplates, made after a fifteenth-century woodcut, represented a winged skeleton with a bow and arrow.
Typ 805.21.2277. Collection of bookplates printed on silk, [ca. 1850?]. Bequest of Philip Hofer, 1984.
Thanks to Caroline Duroselle-Melish, Assistant Curator of Printing and Graphic Arts, for contributing this post.