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Alphonse Cerza owned the book plate (above) and the book where it was found. Who was Alphonse Cerza?

Today, book plates are no longer a very common find, but I like these tokens of hidden wisdom or plain displays of ownership of a book. In this way, the book becomes less abstract, and it becomes a container of information about the person owning and reading it, however brief such information might be.

We have written another post about bookplates here.

The book plate or ex libris shown at the top of this post was found in the book below:img273An interesting title and certainly meant to be a scholarly one given the publishers mentioned on the title page. So let’s have a look at the content and the index of this book below.img276Pure sociology of course and note the curious chapter titles IX(9) and XII(12). Even more curious is the two liner on the opening page:

img274Giuseppe Pitre (1841-1916) was born in Palermo, Sicily and a medical doctor who volunteered under the great liberator Garibaldi. More on Garibaldi in an earlier post here.

Giuseppe Pitre was also a very important anthropologist, Senator, author, and championed the cause of the common people and their oral traditions in Sicily. He became well known for the first important Sicilian etnographical study published in 25 volumes with the title Biblioteca delle Tradizioni Populare Siciliane (Library of popular Sicilian traditions). He was the founder of the Sociology Chair at the respected University of Palermo, and went on to establish an Anthropological and Ethnographical Museum. This explains the honor of the two liner (above) that must be a well known quote by Pitre. How much of our book here is based on the work of Pitre is hard to evaluate now, but perhaps the publishing date sheds some light on the entire book.

In 1938, Italy was on the forefront of world affairs. Mussolini, the Italian dictator supported General Franco’s fight in Spain in the mid thirties, a precursor to WWII. Italians also fought a conquest war in Ethiopia and Somalia in the late 1930’s where poison gas was used on a large scale and the fascist nation had aspirations of becoming an imperial colonial power once again. Perhaps the author and publisher of this book thought it useful to have a book in their series that could shed some light on those “mysterious immigrants” from Sicily and Southern Italy to the new world, whose help the American Government would need half a decade later when the allies invaded Europe, in Sicily to rid the continent of the fascist menace.

img275The author Phyllis H. Williams was an early sociologist who published another book with the curious title Drinking Patterns of the Italians in New Haven, the Utilization of the Personal Diary as a Research Tool. (1950). The title Southern Folklore etc was reprinted in 1969. Apparently, it was still a valid educational work.

Giuseppe Pitre was made an honorary member of the American Folklore Society in 1890, the Society was founded a scant 2 years earlier and exists today.

Who was Alphonse Cerza? Cerza (1906-1987) Of Italian descent for sure, and also a law professor for twenty somewhat years in Chicago at the John Marshall Law school. Cerza, a Mason and Masonic historian, wrote 6 books on Masonic Masonry, and had regular columns in various Masonic publications. He was a 33rd Degree Mason, the highest degree to which one has to be appointed, and because of his vast knowledge of Masonry, he was asked to become an honorary member of the London Lodge Quatuour Coronati, an honor bestowed only upon two other Americans. Membership in this research lodge is limited to 40 members and was founded in 1884. Much of Cerza’s excellent research is still in print today.

The unanswered questions I have in my mind are: Was Giuseppe Pitre a Mason? Belonging to the Sicilian elite, the most likely answer is yes.

Question number two: Which mysterious “book(s)” is Cerza referring in his book plate (shown at the top of this post)? Did he find the “golden treasure” as a 33rd Degree Mason?

Now have you seen where curiosity leads! A lifetime of “learning” for sure.

An interesting introductory text by Alphonse Cerza is still used on this Indian Freemasonry site.

An excellent site on Italian immigration in the United States and their folklore, with a brief biography of books dealing with that subject matter can be found here.