Birding with Bookends
Like many people, we adore wild birds. Jeff in particular is an avid bird watcher and observer of the ecology and natural history of bird life. So it is fun to occasionally mesh this leisure interest with a business pursuit, as in the case of offering these antique bird bookends for sale. The two pursuits are not so dissimilar as they might seem, as both require a keen eye for detail and the ability to pick out beauty and salient features from a crowded field.
This pair of handsome, circa 1920 cast iron bookends features accurate portrayals of two eastern songbirds: a Blue Jay and an Eastern Towhee. Each bird is accurately rendered and painted to represent how the birds appear in their full-feathered glory.
Each bookend is 5″ wide x 3″ deep x 5.75″ high, and has a brass nameplate stating the bird’s name.
Note that the Eastern Towhee bookend is labeled with the name “Chewink.” This is the former common name for this species, representing the onomatopoeic version of its call. This bird has gone through several name changes in the past decades, from Chewink, to Rufus-sided Towhee, to its current common name, Eastern Towhee.
The plants pictured along with the birds on the bookends are also northeastern species, accurately rendered and appropriate for the habitats of these two birds. The Blue Jay is shown on a branch of flowering dogwood.
The Eastern Towhee is on an American hazelnut branch.
The quality of the bookends is evident not only in the fine casting and detailed paint decoration, but also in the iron’s solidity and heft. Yet at the same time the shape of the bookends is delicate and balanced, having a simple scalloped edge along the top that is echoed on the base.
It will come as no surprise to those familiar with antique metalwork that these bookends were made by Bradley & Hubbard (B & H) Manufacturing Company. B & H cast iron accessories, from bookends to call bells to doorstops to doorknockers, are desirable to collectors of cast iron because of their quality and aesthetic appeal.
These bookends are each stamped with the logo that B & H used on the smaller accessories it produced:
Bradley and Hubbard manufacturing company was established in Meriden, CT and operated from 1852-1940. It grew tremendously over the years, manufacturing 238 patented designs across a wide range of objects such as match safes, clocks, light fixtures, furniture, and architectural elements including railings, window grilles, and elevator enclosures. The company was a “master of metalwork,” whose name by the 1890’s “was synonymous with high quality and artistic merit” (see Smithsonian Institution reference below).
In addition to the Blue Jay and Eastern Towhee, there are four other eastern song bird species within this series of B & H bookends, each also accurately representing both the birds and appropriate plants from their habitats. The six species’ habitats range from open fields (Bobolink and Eastern Bluebird), to woodlands (Scarlet Tanager), to forest/field edges (Eastern Towhee), to a little bit of everywhere (Blue Jay and American Robin). Given that B & H was based in Connecticut, it makes sense that the species its designers chose to portray are eastern natives and the habitats represent natural areas found in the northeast.
We have owned each of the six B & H bird bookend designs over the years, but given that we have bought and sold only six pairs of these bookends in 13 years, they are not a common find.
This is the American Robin bookend which shows the bird perched on a fruiting cherry branch (note that it also holds another of its favorite foods – an earthworm – in its beak):
and for comparison, here is a photo of a living American Robin:
On this bookend, a Bobolink is shown with the aster and goldenrod that grow in its meadow habitat:
The Scarlet Tanager bookend features the bird on an oak branch, which is an appropriate perch for this woodland species.
Finally, the Eastern Bluebird bookend shows the bird perched on a dogwood:
Tracking down all six species makes these bookends a particularly fun object to collect, as they can be mixed and matched as pairs, displayed solo on a shelf, or used at one or both ends of a row of books. These are our all-time favorite form of bookends because they so accurately evoke birds in the wild. There is perhaps no better time than early spring to acquire a pair of these bookends; depending on how far north you live, this Eastern Towhee will arrive in your mailbox before it arrives in your yard.
Stamm, Richard E. (undated). The Bradley & Hubbard Manufacturing Company…Masters of Metalwork: Selected Objects from the Smithsonian Institution Castle Collection. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution. (https://www.si.edu/ahhp/bradley_hubbard)