George Wythe's bookplate

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The Chippendale style, armorial bookplate[1] for George Wythe's personal library features a demi-griffin (a mythical beast with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion) segreant on the crest and three griffins passant on the escutcheon. In heraldry, the griffin denotes strength, intelligence, courage and leadership. A family of Wythes from Suffolk, England, had a coat of arms with three golden griffins on a field of azure blue.[2] Coincidentally, the College of William and Mary chose the griffin as its mascot in 2010.

Wythe family arms, drawn by Henry Tindal Methold, for the Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and Natural History (1900).

A metal printer's plate which was probably the matrix for Wythe's bookplates is held by the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts.[3] It is likely Wythe designed the bookplate himself,[4] having a plate made for him by an engraver, most likely in London. Wythe did order from London, in 1768, an engraved copper plate for the making of bookplates for the library of the House of Burgesses of Virginia:

You will oblige me by sending a copper plate, with the arms of Virginia neatly engraved and some impressions of them to be pasted on the books belonging to the house of burgesses. If any additions are made on the plate in consequence of what is proposed within, I will cheerfully pay the extraordinary cost.[5]

The motto on Wythe's bookplate "Secundis Dubiisque Rectus" translates as "Upright in Prosperity and in Perils."[6] This was also the motto chosen by Sir William Blackstone in 1770, for the commemorative rings given to the King, Lord Chancellor, and close friends and family to mark the occasion when he was called to the Coif: "I was called a Serjeant; the motto on my rings being, Secundis, dubiisque, rectus."[7]


Known surviving volumes with Wythe's bookplate

Main article: Known Surviving Wythe Volumes

There are twenty-four known volumes containing Wythe's bookplate which have survived to the present day:

  • Bacon, Matthew, Joseph Sayer, and Owen Ruffhead. A New Abridgment of the Law. 3rd ed. London, In the Savoy: 1736-66. [Volume II has Wythe's bookplate; volume IV has Wythe's name inscribed.] Library of Congress.
  • Hale, Matthew, Sir. Historia Placitorum Coronæ. The History of the Pleas of the Crown. 2 vols. London: Printed by E. and R. Nutt, and R. Gosling for F. Gyles ... [et al.], 1736. [Also inscribed on inside of front board of volume one: "Given by Thos. Jefferson to D. Carr, 1806."] University of Virginia, Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.
  • The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments. Oxford: Thomas Baskett, 1754. [Includes manuscript note, "The Bible belonged to George Wythe, bequeathed by him to Thomas Jefferson, given by Thomas Jefferson to his grand-daughter Cornelia Jefferson Randolph, bequeathed by her to her niece Martha Jefferson Trist, given by her to her son, Nicholas Philip Trist Burke, Alexandria, Va., after his death given to the University of Virginia by Martha Jefferson Burke, Alexandria, Va., July 4, 1912."] University of Virginia, Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.
  • Homer. The Iliad of Homer. Translated by Alexander Pope Esq. London: Printed for Henry Lintot, 1750. [Bookplate, signatures of Ellen Wayles Randolph and, George Wythe Randolph.] Monticello Foundation, Jefferson Library.


  1. Charles Dexter Allen, American Book-plates: A Guide to Their Study with Examples (New York: Macmillan, 1905).
  2. W.J. Corbett and T. Tindal Methold, "The Rise and Devolution of the Manors in Hepworth, Suffolk," Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and Natural History X (1900), 135.
  3. American Antiquarian Society, "Bookplate of George Wythe, Virginia. Metal plate on wood. 8.5 x 7.5 cm.," Box 22 Bookplates, etc., AAS related Matrices: Proceedings, etc., BIB 523518.
  4. Alonso Thomas Dill, George Wythe: Teacher of Liberty (Williamsburg, Virginia: Virginia Independence Bicentennial Commission, 1979), 3.
  5. "George Wythe Letter to John Norton dated August 18, 1768," Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Rockefeller Library Special Collections, SCMS1936.3-0118.
  6. Dill, 3.
  7. Reports of Cases Determined in the Several Courts of Westminster-Hall, from 1746 to 1779 (London: S. Sweet, et al., 2nd ed., 1828), 681.