W.Va. student wins book-collecting contest
Ann Stewart Plein, a University of South Carolina graduate student from Morgantown, W.Va., has won the Thomas Cooper Library Student Book Collecting Award for her collection of book-binding designs by Margaret Armstrong.
The Thomas Cooper Library Student Book Collecting Contest was created to foster student interest in establishing and building personal book collections. The university’s libraries have many of the world’s top literary research collections, including ones on F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, John Milton and Robert Burns.
Plein, pursuing a master’s degree through the School of Library and Information Science’s distance-education program, says she discovered Armstrong years ago as a bookseller of used and out-of-print books.
“My interest was ignited when I was researching books for the bookstore and volunteering in the rare-book room at West Virginia University,” Plein said. “Margaret Armstrong was one of the most notable book-cover designers of the late 19th and 20th century and one of only two women in the field. She broke ground at a time when women more typically worked as seamstresses or teachers.”
Plein’s collection, “Beautiful Bindings: The Designs of Margaret Armstrong,” will be on display at the university’s Thomas Cooper Library through May.
Armstrong (1867-1944), an artist, designed several hundred book covers during her career, which flourished from the turn of the 20th century to World War I. Plein’s collection shows the range of Armstrong’s work in color-and-gold-stamped cloth designs for commercially published books. Her designs reflected popular art nouveau and arts-and-crafts-movement motifs and typography that marked the period, a time that preceded the dust jacket used to entice consumers.
Plein earned her undergraduate degree in history and religion from Emory and Henry College in Emory, Va., in 1982. She is married to WVU faculty member Dr. Christopher Plein.
Upon graduating from the University of South Carolina in August, Plein plans to pursue her passion as a rare-books librarian.
“I discovered the University of South Carolina’s graduate program in library and information science through the American Library Association,” Plein said. “It is a fantastic program, and I’ve learned so much.”