The Twenties and Thirties are considered "America's Golden Age of Bookends." It was during this period that American bookend production really took-off. Why this period? Most importantly, it was because it was during the early Twentieth Century that America's middle class really began to grow. Middle class families, with new-found disposable income, could afford to buy certain discretionary "luxuries" such as books. In the Nineteenth Century (and before), books and libraries were typically only within reach of well-heeled aristocrats. The vast majority of Americans, still confined to the working classes, might only possess a handful of books: a Bible, a cookbook, perhaps some poetry. But not enough books to fill shelves. Simply put, with few books in the average home, mass-produced bookends were not, yet, needed.
The Twenties and Thirties were also a time when the heavy industries of iron and steel working were happily chugging-along in the U.S. Labor was inexpensive and the manufacturing infrastructure existed to obtain the raw materials for bookends, cast and finish them, and ship them across the nation. Once America entered World War II in 1941, metal (and metal working industries) were quickly re-directed into production for the war effort. Frivolities—like cast iron bookends, silk stockings and long dresses—were no longer readily available, if they were made at all.
After the War, when Americans were once again permitted to indulge their consumer fancies, the times had changed. The steel industry (and other dirty, labor-intensive manufacturing) was slowly beginning to move overseas (where labor was cheaper and environmental standards were less-strictly enforced). Furthermore, new, modern styles began to get traction; updated, streamlined, and lighter bookend styles began to replace the heavy cast iron styles of yore (for example, hollow-cast spelter or zinc designs reflecting a Modernist aesthetic).
The heavy cast iron bookends, shown above, were made in the 1920's or 1930's by Bradley & Hubbard. Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are shown in profile (or three-quarter profile). Throughout my 30 years of actively buying and selling bookends, I have noticed that Lincoln bookends are far more commonplace than Washington bookends. I'm not certain as to why, however, I suspect that Lincoln's tragic end made him a compelling and sympathetic figure amongst American consumers. Furthermore, in the Twenties, the Civil War was still only 60 years in the past—still fresh in the mind of all Americans, even those who weren't alive during that time. Please click on the photo above to learn more about these handsome bookends.
Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well! Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (www.LEOdesignNYC.com).
We also can be found in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (www.antiquecenterofstrabane.com).
Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only). 917-446-4248