‘All that glitters is not gold’, but there is also gold that does not glitter. This shabby book was once a glorious mossy green, soft suede leather with graceful extended edges overhanging its text, which is printed on high quality paper, and its front cover gilt stamped with its title and below it to the right the owner’s name, Loveland Munson. This is a Roycroft binding, a style created at the Roycroft handicraft community of East Aurora, New York, founded around 1895 by Elbert Hubbard, a successful salesman, eccentric social reformer and visionary, and Harvard dropout (cf Bill Gates). Not the sort of binding one would expect to find on this text, the Vermont Court Rules, printed 1901 in Montpelier, Vermont, by order of the Vermont Supreme Court.
The mystery of such a binding on such a book is clarified by the physical evidence of the book itself, and some judicial Google sleuthing. Loveland Munson, whose name is on the cover, was a Vermont Supreme Court Justice from 1889 to 1917. Inside the book is a single loose printed page bearing three quotations from the Rubiayat of Omar Khayyam, taken from the Edward Fitzgerald translation, first edition (1859); and one from the Scottish poet Robert Burns, all pertaining to the fleeting passage of time. These are followed by the declaration “presented with compliments of” and the signature of Russell S. Taft, a descendant of U.S. President Robert Taft, who was also a Vermont Supreme Court Justice from 1880 until his death in 1902.
Taft acquired his literary tastes largely on his own, and learned law more by working in law firms than formal study. He held strong views about the nature of Justice and the practice of law. He believed that attorneys made for poor judges, that precedents in English Common Law were important, but citations drawn from other American jurisdictions outside Vermont were irrelevant. This streak of independence in Taft’s opinions make it no surprise that he was one of Elbert Hubbard’s admirers, and that must have influenced Taft’s choice of the Roycroft binding style for this presentation to his colleague and friend Loveland Munson.
Were they friends? Could this have been an obligatory token dictated by some formal occasion? No reference to a formal presentation of such a book to Munson by Taft or anyone else has been discovered in the contemporary accounts. Other than the presentation notice, there is no marginal comment or textual notation in the book. The presentation is printed, not handwritten, so perhaps Taft had several copies bound for his colleagues and friends. If he had individual names stamped onto the covers for all of them, it must have been a select circle. Perhaps he had only a few such books personalized for special friends. In any event, one must assume some personal connection between Taft and the recipient(s) of the book(s) for which he must have commissioned such a special binding. Such a supposition is supported by the quotation Taft chose from Burns to conclude his quotations:
“For auld lang zyne;
In response to those feelings that start
When memory plays on old tune on the heart.”
Thanks are due for their assistance to John Petty of the Roycrofter Fraternity and Paul J. Donovan, state law librarian, Vermont State Library.