With Compliments: First Books and Their Inscriptions

Hardback “Emilies” I have at home

There’s something about the first of anything–a sense of witnessing, a curious feeling of participation, even if the “first” was created before we were born. I feel that way about the original, first editions of Emilie Loring’s books. They are like what she would have held–maybe did hold–their design at least partially influenced by her taste.

I have multiple, hardcover copies of some of her books, and they are not the same. Their paper differs in thickness, their covers vary in composition, binding, and color. When I find a first edition, one of my first observations is its color. “Oh, the original Here Comes the Sun! was green!”

First edition, Here Comes the Sun!

Emilie Loring grew up in a publisher’s house. Her father reviewed manuscripts for publication and then designed the books’ interiors, illustrations, and covers. She knew what went into their creation. We can tell that she valued firsts–not only the first editions but also her first copies–by the way that she inscribed them for posterity.

First copy of We Ride the Gale! received February 6, 1934

First copy received February 5, 1937

Inscriptions, We Ride the Gale! and As Long As I Live

The conventions of the book business–advance copies, advertising, reviews, book signings, and inscriptions–were second nature to her, absorbed long before she dreamt of a writing career for herself. These special editions of her father’s plays were published when Emilie was four and eight. Her father inscribed them to her Uncle Walter, who managed the family’s play publishing business, the still-extant Baker’s Plays.

This Bible was inscribed to Emilie and Victor as a wedding present from his mother.

Bible given to Emilie and Victor upon their wedding, from his mother

Here’s a copy of The Trail of Conflict, Emilie Loring’s first, published novel, with the inscription:

To The Boston Authors Club with the compliments of the author

Emilie Loring

Wellesley Hills, September 5, 1922

Inscription, The Trail of Conflict

Note the bookplate, “Ex libris, Boston Authors Club.” Bookplates are used to show ownership, and ex libris means “from the library,” in this case, of the Boston Authors Club, to whom this book is inscribed. Note, also, that she presented the book on September 5, 1922–her fifty-sixth birthday.

I’ve wondered about the phrase, “with the compliments of the author.” Does it simply convey good wishes, or does it indicate that the book is a gift–“complimentary?” Grant Barrett of “A Way With Words,” one of my favorite podcasts, supplied the answer: “It’s a specific meaning, dating back ~300 years, where respect is being paid via a gift, instead of via kind, flattering, or praising words in the other kind of compliment.”

Early in her career, Emilie signed books to her sons “with the compliments of the author.”

Inscription, Swift Water

Later, she signed them more personally, like these copies to her sons and their wives.

This copy of Stars in Your Eyes acknowledged the common bond between herself and son Selden:

To “that well known author of children’s stories, Selden M. Loring”

this book is affectionately inscribed.”

Emilie Loring

A personal inscription to Emilie Loring’s son

Inscriptions needn’t signify a change in ownership. Some people sign all of the books in their libraries or mark them with personal bookplates. Emilie’s early first copies were simply marked as such, without her signature. Later, though, she added, “Her book.”

“Emilie Loring, Her book”

Emilie Loring

Her book

Published November 18, 1946

Inscription, Bright Skies

Why, in 1946, did Emilie add the emphasis “Her book?” Her husband, Victor, was in the last months of his life. Did she anticipate the move that was coming, away from her Beacon Hill home of twenty years, and the assumption of her library into another’s? Did she act in awareness that her personal copies would be more valuable in the future and needed more than her signature to mark them as such?

Emilie Loring’s personal library–the books she read by other authors–was divided between her two sons, and then between her grandchildren. In the process, books were let go, so it’s hard to say how many of them she might have signed and in what ways.

Inscription, The Secret of the Island

She signed her name inside the front covers of the Everyman’s Library books she acquired for Stone House, then recorded and initialed the dates upon which she finished reading them on their last pages. As I wrote in Our Selves in Our Libraries, our books represent much of our thinking lives, and these notations amounted to a diary of sorts.

As I make choices for Happy Landings, I think about the idea of firsts. What color do I want the cover to be? How will the biography look alongside Emilie Loring’s first edition novels? How will it feel to finally hold the printed copy in my hand?

When the time comes, hopefully in the fall of 2022, you’ll have the opportunity to purchase signed copies from me through my website and at book signings. Unsigned copies will be available from other outlets. (I’ve told you all I know; I’ll shout details to the rooftops when I learn them.)

How will I inscribe them, to family, friends, and readers? I feel a kinship with Emilie as I anticipate the moment and its possibilities.

Happy Landings, everyone!

16 thoughts on “With Compliments: First Books and Their Inscriptions

  1. Ohh, fall 2022! Very exciting, it will be here before we know it. I’m already planning to buy one as a gift for a dear friend who grew up reading Emilie with me. And my own copy of course.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for this post. I wonder what they’d say at Antiques Roadshow about these signed first editions from EL? They do like first editions generally, and they also like original paintings that become bookslip covers.

    The perfect seque for my comment, which is a bit off topic. I watched Antiques Roadshow last night. A woman brought in a series of drawings by a Disney artist her family knew. There were several of the dancing hippos from Fantasia. One was drawn in colored pencils and crayons–red, pink, orange, yellow. Do you want to know how the valuator (right term?) said when he looked at that drawing? He love it; he called it “a riot of color”! My ears perked up when I heard that!I have never heard that outside of an EL book. EL would frequently say “riot of color” to describe colorful floral gardens.

    Interesting to hear such a classic EL phrase “in the wild”!

    Happy Landings!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I do love to look at inscriptions and bookplates, especially from older books, since they are often lovely and ornate (even just the handwriting). It’s interesting to see a variety of Emilie’s inscriptions, and it must be exciting to think about how you’ll inscribe your books!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I like your thoughtful comments about Emilie’s books. It makes me wonder what we as a family should do with my father’s thoundsands of books. Books are so special. They have always paid a big part in my life. Thank you for making Emilie come alive, along with the characters she wrote about. Thanks for everything.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Lorraine. I understand your question about what to do with your father’s library. Libraries are such personal things, in the aggregate. When I stand in front of my dad’s books, I sense his knowledge, his values, his personality. It’s such a presence, like having him near, and I am loath to tear it apart. One idea I’ve had is to take really good photographs of the shelves, so I could see them again when I want to. Another is to keep the books that evoke the strongest memories, and I will do that, but it’s the collection that speaks loudest, a record of interests he had, ideas he thought about, choices he made. Let me know if you come up with a solution.


  5. Aloha! How exciting for you! I look forward to your cover color decision. I always think of Emilie in a garden with an abundance of color. The greens as background for the coppers and rusts of autumn, the vibrant jewel colors of spring and summer and the deep pine colors in winter. As a painter, it would be exciting to take a wildly descriptive paragraph and illustrate it in color. I don’t have the books though, and my library is not ordering them for me during these covid days, so I need to find some books online to have the references. A project ahead. Enjoy your final designing year. May you have success, aloha pam

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 2 people

  6. Loved reading this post. We grew up with hard cover of With This Ring and I believe that the first of her books we read.

    Mary L Shaw On Mon, Dec 27, 2021 at 12:02 PM The Emilie Loring Collection wrote:

    > Patti Bender posted: ” Hardback “Emilies” I have at home There’s something > about the first of anything–a sense of witnessing, a curious feeling of > participation, even if the “first” was created before we were born. I feel > that way about the original, first editions of Emil” >

    Liked by 2 people

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