Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Remembering F. Hopkinson Smith

F. Hopkinson Smith was a talented person who wore a lot of hats in his life. Not only was he an author and illustrator, but he was also a renowned engineer.

Francis Hopkinson Smith was born in Baltimore, Maryland on October 23, 1838 to Francis Hopkinson Smith Sr. and Susan Teackle. He left home at the age of 16 and found a job at a hardware store as a shipping clerk. One day he took a leap of faith and ventured up to New York. It took him a while to find a job, but he eventually secured a position at a iron firm thanks to family connections. He eventually got brave and started his own business, with his first major project being the ice-breaker surrounding the Bridgeport Lighthouse, which appeared in his book "Caleb West" and was his proudest accomplishment. He did several more jobs in the years following, but probably his most famous job was to build the foundation for the Statue of Liberty.

He married Josephine Van De Venter and had two children, Francis Berkeley Smith (who, as an author, binding designer and illustrator, was just as well known as his father if you are in the binding world), and Marion Smith.

Mrs. Josephine V. Smith from her 1921 passport application and F. Berkeley Smith from an ad in Publishers Weekly

It wasn't until Francis was 45 years old that he started to become serious about writing. His first book, "Old Lines in New Black and White" was published in 1885, but it wasn't until the publication of "Colonel Carter of Cartersville" in 1891 that he became famous. He wrote 29 books and was in the process of writing his 30th when he passed away on April 7, 1915. His son, F. Berkeley Smith, who, as stated earlier, was equally well known as an artist, binding designer, and author, completed the 30th volume titled Enoch Crane, which was published by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1916.

Francis seemingly had a heart of gold and tried to always see the good in people, which was reflected in his writing. In an interview with the New York Times in 1905, he was quoted as saying "I believe that there is something fine, some spark of good, in the lowest human being, and I want to bring out that sort of thing." He also believed in using real life situations and people in his novels and based characters on people he knew in real life. A Mrs. Mary Morgan was the inspiration for Tom Grogan; Richard Horn and Mrs. Horn were based on his mother and father; and his most famous character, Colonel Carter, was based on several people, including his father, his uncle, and one or two others.

He was also a lover of pets, especially dogs. He was quoted in the same New York Times interview  as saying, "When you've said that a man is 'a good human dog,' I should like to know what greater compliment you can give him." It's a shame being called a dog in these times doesn't carry quite the compliment it might have in the past.

In honor of the anniversary of the passing of this fascinating man, here are a handful of his works we have in our trade bindings collection.

Published by Houghton, Mifflin and Co. in 1892

Variant binding published by Houghton, Mifflin and Co. in 1892

Published by Houghton, Mifflin, and Co. in 1889. Binding by Sarah Whitman

Published by Houghton, Mifflin and Co. in 1899. Binding by Sarah Whitman

Published by Houghton, Mifflin and Company. Binding attributed to Bruce Rogers

Published by Houghton, Mifflin and Co. in 1899. Binding signed "S", probably F. Berkeley Smith

Published by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1907

Published by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1906. Binding by F. Berkeley Smith


1. "New York, New York City Municipal Deaths, 1795-1949," database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2WHK-L71 : 10 February 2018), Francis Hopkinson Smith, 07 Apr 1915; citing Death, Manhattan, New York, New York, United States, New York Municipal Archives, New York; FHL microfilm 1,322,372.

2. Obituary Notes. (1915, April 10). Publishers Weekly, 87(15), 1129.

3. Enoch Crane. (1916, September 16). Publishers Weekly, 90(12), 861.

4. "United States Passport Applications, 1795-1925," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QKDF-4CN9 : 16 March 2018), Josephine Vanderenter Smith, 1921; citing Passport Application, New York, United States, source certificate #51086, Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 - March 31, 1925, 1652, NARA microfilm publications M1490 and M1372 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

5. A LITTLE HEART-TO-HEART TALK WITH F. HOPKINSON SMITH. (1905, Jan 29). New York Times (1857-1922) Retrieved from https://login.libproxy.uncg.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/96568348?accountid=14604

6. A Village of Vagabonds. (1910, May 28). Publishers Weekly, 77(22), 2072.

7. American Publishers Trade Bindings. (n.d.). Retrieved April 8, 2020, from http://libcdm1.uncg.edu/cdm/tradebindings

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