Friday, 18 May 2007

The American Dering Family Bookplates and N. Hurd

Thomas Dering (1720-1785), a Boston merchant, was the son of Henry E. Dering (1684-1750), from Boston, and his wife Elizabeth Packer, daughter of Thomas Packer, of Portsmouth - a merchant, physician, judge and member of the King's Council.
His grandfather was Henry Dering I (1639 - 1717), born England, in co. Dorsetshire, and immigrated to America circa 1660, living at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, married 2ndly, in 1676, Elizabeth Mitchelson, daughter of Edward Mitchelson.

Thomas Dering married in 1756 Mary Sylvester (1725–1794), born at Southold, Long Island, daughter of Brinley Sylvester, of Shelter Island, and granddaughter of Nathaniel Sylvester[1].
Dering was a patriot, a supporter of the Declaration of Independence, member of the convention that approved New York's first state constitution and a member of the Congress of the independent United States of America.
Nathaniel Hurd (1730-1777) engraved a bookplate for Thomas Dering - dated 1749 – which was thought as being the first signed and dated bookplate made by an American artist, both by Charles Dexter Allen[2] (Allen #219), who also considered it very rare, already in 1895, and by W. Hamilton[3].

However, Thomas Dering used two other bookplates. One, bearing a crest on a circular ring with the date «17___» (Allen #220), which according to Dexter Allen «resembles the work of Hurd somewhat». Hollis French, S. B. – the authority on N. Hurd – in turn, considered it as «…very crude, but it is decidedly in Hurd’s early manner, though unsigned»[4].

The other bookplate (below), somewhat bigger, is an armorial pictorial with supporters, also signed by N. Hurd, not referred by Allen in his standard reference work, but described by Hollis French who said it was believed to be older then the dated plate.
Seemingly, this bookplate is extremely rare, Hollis referring only one specimen acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of New York [5].

Thomas’ son Henry Packer Dering, of Sag Harbor (1763-1822) - a collector of customs, postmaster and military storekeeper in Sag Harbor, Long Island, used his father’s bookplate, signed and dated by Hurd, after having it altered to fill in his name: Henry P. Dering [6].
This, most probably, occurred after his father’s death in 1785. The bookplate must have been unknown to Charles Dexter Allen since he did not include it in his list of early American bookplates [7].

The original N. Hurd dated plate was yet to be used by another member of the Dering Family in the first quarter of the XIX c., a grandson of Thomas Dering!

Nicoll Havens Dering [8] (1794-1867) from Utica, Oneida Co., New York, the son of General Sylvester Dering (1759-1820), the elder brother of Henry P. Dering, and Esther Sarah Havens, also used the Hurd plate of his grandfather Thomas with the name altered: Nicoll H. Dering (Allen #218).

But again, it seems Nicoll H. Dering used another bookplate also not listed by Dexter Allen. According to Hollis French it is the same Thomas Dering plate, in the third state, with date, name and signature erased. The new name was re-engraved in modern lettering [9] (not show).

The specimen shown (above) though has a motto added – Sola Nobilitas Virtus – with the name inscribed below, looking as a modern engraving copying the old Hurd’s plate.
It was referred by Holis French as being in the bookplate collection of the «American Antiquarian Society» [10].
Henry Packer Dering had at least a son - Henry Thomas (Tom) Dering (1796-1854) who, in 1842, was appointed collector of the customs for the district and inspector of the revenue for the port of Sag Harbor, in the State of New York, and several daughters. It is not clear why the plate came into the hands of his cousin Nicoll H. Dering.
Little is known about the arms in these bookplates and the right to use them.
Nathaniel Hurd (1730-1777) was an engraver and silversmith [11] who worked in gold and silver for a chosen clientele. Allen considered Hurd the best American early engraver and dedicated him an extensive entry in his reference book and publishing a list of bookplates signed by the artist and another of plates attributed to him but unsigned [12].
Hurd, a patriot in the American Revolution, was portrayed by John Singleton Copley [13] in informal clothes in a painting which is now at the Cleveland Museum of Art.
His engraving tools, according to Allen and were left by will to his nephew John Mason Furnass (1763 - 1804), a painter and engraver of Boston, Mass., who also made bookplates, namely for Eli Forbes [14].
Anyway, three generations of Derings used the same N. Hurd plate as a bookplate apart from other bookplates not listed by Allen but referred by French Hollis.
All these bookplates are exceptional or very rare specimens and very seldom found in known bookplate collections.
Apparently, one of Thomas Dering’s dated bookplate existed in the collections of Richard B. Coutant, sold at an auction in 1859 [15] and in the famous Bailley Bookplate Collection, now at the New York Metropolitan Museum fo Art [16].

We were fortunate to be helped by Mr. Matt Thomas a descendant of Sarah Dering, sister of Thomas Dering, who confirmed that according to Family correspondence (1898) the majority of the few plates then in existence belonged to members of the Dering family.

We would like to thank Mr. Matt Thomas for the information provided and for permission to reproduce the Dering bookplates which he most kindly provided.

[1] Nathaniel Sylvester (d. 1680) was a sugar merchant born in England who immigrated to America to Newport and being afterwards the founder of the town of Shelter Island (circa 1652). He married Grissell Brinley, daughter of Thomas Brinley, keeper of the accounts for both Charles I and Charles II. The Sylvesters are said to have been Royalists fleeing from Cromwell’s rule in England (source

[2] American Bookplate: A Guide to their Study (with a Bibliography by E. N. Hewins) Reprint of the 1895 ed. New York : Hacker Art Books, 1968; the bookplate is also discussed by Downs, Joseph, A Quillwork Hatchment, in «The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin», Vol. 33, No. 12 (Dec., 1938), pp. 267-268.

[3] In Dated Book-Plates (Ex Libris) With A Treatise On Their Origin And Development, 1st ed. London : A. & C. Black, 1895

[4] The Bookplates of Nathaniel Hurd (1730-1777), in «Year Book 1940-41», The American Society of Bookplate Collectors and Designers», Washington DC, 1942, p. 31

[5] Ibidem, p. 31

[6] Hollis French, ibidem, p.32; see, also Lewis Jaffe’s Blog

[7] According to Hollis French, writing in 1939, Charles Dexter Allen only listed 28 bookplates signed by Hurd and 14 attributed to him, but the number amounts to 55 bookplates not counting the varieties or states, ibidem, p.20.

[8] I wonder if the portrait of a Nicoll Dering by Daniel Huntington donated to the The Metropolitan Museum of Art in the first decade of the last century by Sylvester Dering (II) was of our bearer?

[9] See, Hollis French, ibidem, p. 32-33

[10] Ibidem, pp.33

[11] French, Hollis (foreword by Kathryn C. Buhler) Jacob Hurd and His Sons Nathaniel & Benjamin: Silversmiths 1702-1781, 1st ed.,Boston, MA, The Walpole Society, 1939; reprint, Da Capo Press, New York, 1972; Patricia E. Kane, Nathaniel Hurd: The Life of a Colonial Silversmith and Engraver, «Porticus», 20, (2001):8-17

[12] ibidem, pp. 104-116

[13] See post by J. L. Bell at his Blog Boston 1755

[14] See also, article by David Bosse, 'To Promote Useful Knowledge': "An Accurate Map of the Four New England States" by John Norman and John Coles, in «Imago Mundi», Vol. 52, 2000 (2000), pp. 143-157

[15] [Catalogue] The extensive collection of bookplates formed by the late dr. Richard b. Coutant, sale no. 1859 - october 10th 1924, at The Anderson Galleries, The Anderson Galleries, New York, 1924

[16] Ivins, Jr., William M., The Baillie Collection of Bookplates, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Vol. 15, No. 11 (Nov., 1920), pp. 246-248 see. (

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