Bookplates: They're continued appeal as object of art during an age of all things digital.

This is an image of my bookplate. The moment I saw it, I knew it was the perfect one for me, something about it spoke to me. It is from Dover Art and was royalty free.
This is an image of my bookplate. The moment I saw it, I knew it was the perfect one for me, something about it spoke to me. It is from Dover Art and was royalty free. | Source

Prior to the 20th century, books were considered a luxury. Many, if not all books of the 16-19th centuries were bound in leather with raised spines and gilded pages. Because books were of such great value, people began using custom bookplates to identify the books' rightful owner.

Originally, bookplates were designed for those who could afford them, most certainly nobles. The plates were crafted from woodcuts bearing the nobles' coat of arms. Nobles' insignia would appear on their stationary, linens, silverware, fine china and, of course, their books. When the middle class began commissioning bookplates, they would request designs that highlighted their personal achievements rather than their lineage.

Bookplates appear to have originated in Germany. There is some doubt to when the earliest bookplate was crafted, however, it does seem well acknowledged that in 1516 when the first plate was dated it was designed by Albrecht Durer.

Albrecht Durer's Young Hare
Albrecht Durer's Young Hare | Source

Albrecht Durer, used copper-engraving and wood-engraving processes to design his bookplates. His works would later be ascribed to him by experts familiar with his art because he did not sign them.

Although, Durer's Young Hare was not commissioned as a bookplate, it has become so in more modern times.

Between the late 1800 and the early 1900s bookplate society began to emerge. Collecting rose to a near frenzy. Bookplates, truly objects of art, were as individual and unique as the person they had been commissioned for.

Today, the practice of placing ownership on books is infrequently used. With the exception of, perhaps academic or public libraries, few use bookplates to claim their book, opting rather to simply pen their names onto a page.

In the beginning, there were several disinctly different types of bookplates at the turn of the 19th century.

They were:

Carolean (c.1690)

Restoration (c. 1700)

Jacobean (c. 1700-1750)

Chippendale (c. 1750-1780)

Allegorical (c. 1730)

Landscape (c. 1780-1810)

One could have a variety of reasons for becoming a bookplate collector, however, during the earlier craze of collecting there were 4 primary reasons for the interest in bookplates.

Those were:

Antiquarian Research: Many early bookplates were dated or had a particular style, as mentioned above.

Evidence of Provenance: Again, for history buffs, the bookplate can be a tell-tale sign of the times.

Artistic Discovery: Some the world's most prominent artist (Durer, for example) were commissioned to design bookplates and yet many neglected to sign their work. Several needn't have required their signature for they are easily recognizable.

Heraldic Studies: Because early books were owned by nobles whose coat of arts were more widely recognized compared to there actually family name, bookplates were used to establish genealogy.

Whether you are a collector or merely an admirer, you are not alone. The bookplate may not be employed as often as by-gone days, but there are many who still enjoy glancing upon the hundreds of tiny treasures listed in catalogs, shown in museums and sold by artists of all types.

To me, it seems quite easy to spend time looking at bookplates. I find them both intriguing and mysterious.

A bookplate makes a wonderful present. Whether it's to accompany a beloved children's book for a mother-to-be or a gift for a graduating bibliophile, the bookplate, no longer evidence of peerage, is simply a reminder that someone still appreciates books.

Perhaps you wish to label your books in a more obscurely personal way. I have known a friend to merely stamp his monogram on the inside cover.

Placing one of these stickers onto the inside of each of your books could be a uniquely identifying method of claiming the books in your collection-a much more modern coat of arms.


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