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What is a bookplate and why would I want one?

Updated on August 23, 2017

What is a bookplate and why would I want one?

People ask me when I tell them I sell bookplates, "What's a bookplate?" It sounds like some technical piece of equipment used in the making of books, doesn't it?

It's actually just a simple piece of paper with a design on it used to signify who owns a book. These days they usually come with a self-adhesive backing.

That's the short description. People also want to know why they'd want to stick a label inside a book. Sometimes they want to know what bookplate to buy for someone.

There is a little more explanation about what a bookplate is - what they are for, why people use them, how to select a bookplate, to personalize or not and what to do with a bookplate if you get one - so that's what I'm hoping to do here!

You can offer me some feedback, too!

10 Reasons to Give a Bookplate. - I'm sure there are more!

Why give bookplates? Here are ten reasons...

  • Bookplates encourage reading - children love stickers with their names on them - give a bookplate along with a new book!
  • Bookplates are an inexpensive gift
  • Bookplates are thoughtful gifts, especially if you select well
  • Bookplates will last for a long time - every time someone sees the bookplate, they'll remember you!
  • Bookplates can be very personal - if you have them personalized
  • Bookplates remind borrowers to return books - so you're helping someone loan books, and helping them get them back!
  • Bookplates identify ownership - so you may be helping roommates avoid arguments or pack up with ease.
  • Bookplates identify ownership - so you may be helping a new couple with new names identify ownership of new books they buy together!
  • Bookplates leave memories - donate a book to a library, a book in honor of a teacher, a book in memory of a loved one -- leave memories!
  • Bookplates make a nice thank you - give a bookplate as a thank you for something nice someone has done - better yet, put it inside a book and give it to the person.

When bookplates began...

a very short history of bookplates

Before the printing press was invented, books were handwritten for the church and the wealthy. Ownership may have been handwritten in the book or the books protected by chains.

A bookplate would often have the words "Ex Libris" printed on them, along with the owner's name. "Ex Libris" is Latin literally for, "From books..." or roughly translated now - "from the library of.."

After the invention of the movable type printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in the early 15th century, books were more available to the limited number of people who could read. Books were still valuable - mass productions were not available and books were a valuable part of an estate.

Special crests were sometimes woodburned or otherwise placed in the book to declare family or church ownership. Eventually bookplates became available. Churches, businesses and individuals might have their own bookplates designed and placed inside the books.

Bookplates have been used in many ways -- not merely to identify the owner's name, they've been used as an expression of his or her personality and beliefs. Before mass production of bookplates, they would be individually designed. A design might include the family crest, or a miniature piece of art that reflected the personal wealth or standing of the owner.

Even today, there are societies and groups designed to further the Art of the Bookplate, and many collections are centered on the artist's work.

Bookplates today are used for many reasons. Some are given as gifts, to encourage readership in babies and young children. They are given as rewards to children who are becoming readers. Authors like to use bookplates at booksignings. People who donate a loved one's book collection or give books in a loved one's name often use bookplates In Memory Of.... College students use them to avoid the confusion of books in dorm or apartment living with other students who may have the same books. People with large book collections, and those who lend out books, like to have their names in the books for easy return.

AFFIXING YOUR BOOKPLATES TO YOUR BOOKS

This information is for self-stick bookplates or gummed bookplates - bookplates that are to be affixed with glue will come with special instructions from their manufacturer.

Most of the bookplates I sell have a self-adhesive backing.

1. Bookplates should be affixed inside the front cover of your book. If you put it on a page, it can be torn out. Covers - especially for hardcover books - usually aren't removed from books.

2. Usually it's easy to find the peel off line on the back. Although there is usually no printed help, you may be able to see the horizontal or vertical line that shows where you can peel open the backing.

This isn't always true, and if you are having trouble try:

a. Gently folding the bookplate horizontally - rolling it closed with the design inside can help you see the opening, especially if you hold it up to a light. Once you get the backing peeled off and the bookplate affixed, it should appear as if it were never folded! If horizontally doesn't work, try vertically

b. Using your fingernails to find and peel open from one of the 4 corners of the bookplate.

c. If all else fails, you can send your bookplates back and we will either find the beginning spot or replace the bookplates returned at no charge (even if it is just one).

3. When affixing custom bookplates, use caution. The ink used for the lettering can smudge if rubbed too hard. It will run if it gets wet.

4. For the pressure sensitive labels, peel off part of the backing (don't pull off all at once). Attach that portion to the space on the book. Rub it in on the parts without your name, then peel off the second part.

******** (there's a video below, also)*********

If you happen to have a gummed label (older Antioch bookplates, before the 1980s, were often gummed), be especially careful not to get the front of the bookplate wet. It is best for adults to help children (they tend to rub stickers in hard!)

Do not apply a lot of water. We suggest you wet a sponge, wring it out, place the sponge wet side up on a little plate. Gently move the back of the bookplate over the sponge, dabbing it 'til it is slightly wet. Apply to book

If your bookplates are personalized, for both types, to firmly affix your bookplate to the book, take a blank piece of paper (for the self stick, we use the handy backing label we just peeled off of our label). Place it over the bookplate, gently pat it down. You can rub gently on the cover paper without smudging the lettering.

Affixing a bookplate - easy peasy

It's super easy to affix bookplates if they have peel off backing. If they need glue or paste to attach, it's a little more difficult, but the location remains the same. This video shows affixing a peel off backing bookplate.

When you're buying bookplates for someone else - ..giving bookplates as gifts to someone else

What if you want to give bookplates as gifts but you're not sure what to give..

If you know what kind of interests the person has, try picking something that would match their book collections (they might have several)..

Collectors of a certain kind of books often like having bookplates that match the theme of the books they are collecting - for example, Star Trek fans will enjoy having Star Trek bookplates. Cookbook collectors will appreciate a bookplate with a cooking theme. Nature lovers would appreciate bookplates with birds, .. and so on.

On Children and Bookplates

....some advice....

I'm surprised at how many times I get an e-mail from an adult -- anywhere from 30 to 70 - looking for a bookplate they had as a child, perhaps their first bookplate.

They are usually looking for it as a gift for their own children or grandchildren, which is not a surprise.

The surprise is that the bookplate usually is not a childish looking design. It's usually something black and white, but mature -- a cat on a stack of books. A child silhouetted reading under a tree. An owl in a tree.

Not child like at all. If the design isn't out of print and I have it, it's usually one that is still a top seller, that adults are buying for themselves or as gifts for other adults.

What does this tell us?

Bookplates are classic - and children who receive them as children often grow up to be readers. I advise people who are buying bookplates for a child's library or for a quality hardcover book to:

1. Choose the bookplate as if the child were older - this encourages a mature attitude about books. A classic design will follow them into maturity.

2. Either have it personalized, or write or type the child's name in it yourself

3. Use a mature font - Calligrapher or Lydian that will follow the child into adulthood

4. Place the bookplate a book before giving it to the child if the child is under six or seven.

If you are selecting a bookplate for a younger child - they will consider a bookplate a sticker - they love stickers. You might want to buy some inexpensive stickers for the child, but put the bookplates in books for the child.

Cute bookplates of licensed characters should be selected with care. By the time the child is older, the cuteness or the licensed character may be a turn off to them.

These have their place - they are great little incentives for a child, they'll be well accepted.

But if you are building a library for a child of classic books or adding to their library, consider classic bookplates, too, with a more adult look to the child's name.

Pink bunny by petitpaintdraw
Pink bunny by petitpaintdraw

Children's bookplates

You can make children's bookplates, of course, if you're not interested in the more permanent, long-lasting ones. They are wonderful as party favors or to go along with toddler or young children gifts. They're stickers!!

You can read a bit about making your own (see my other site).

Would you personalize that gift?

I'm always looking for feedback and help about bookplates so please, tel me!

A comment on bookplates? Advices or feedback always appreciated! - please go ahead and let me know what you think

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    • Cadetimothy profile image

      Cadetimothy 17 months ago

      In my searches and collections, I have always been disappointed to find a bookplate in a valuable hard to find book, or any for that matter. I was always under the impression it devalues them and collectors and buyers prefer them to not be there. While i always find it interesting to read inscriptions and notes left by people 100 years ago, i feel the book may be more interesting, but now it is significantly less valuable.

    • profile image

      mary-m-groth 3 years ago

      Thank you for including my work (child's bookplate) in this wonderful lens - most informative :)

    • TeacherSerenia profile image

      TeacherSerenia 5 years ago

      I am new to bookplates - I never really thought of them as important despite my love of antiquarian books - but now I am curious to learn more. This is a very nice lens, thank you.

    • Virtue Creations profile image

      Virtue Creations 5 years ago

      I am stuck on bookplates - as I have mostly paperbacks the inside covers usually have writing or big pictures on them - is it ok to stick over these or does it devalue the book?

      I read it's a no-no to stick on the first page of books as they can tear out.

      What should I do? Thanks! and Great lens :)

    • verymary profile image

      Mary 7 years ago from Chicago area

      I'm new to the bookplace biz but am a bit obsessed with them at the moment! 5* and featuring this lens at squidoo.com/best-bookplates

    • alinaspencil profile image

      alinaspencil 7 years ago

      This was very interesting. I've seen bookplates in books before but never have given them much thought. Now, as a shopkeeper and designer, you have renewed my interest!

      Alina

      Alina's Pencil: whimsical words and pictures

    • DAnnieB LM profile image
      Author

      DAnnieB LM 7 years ago

      @anonymous: Indeed, Steve! I have had may authors as repeat customers for this very purpose - I even designed an autograph edition bookplate!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      When giving autographed books as gifts, some authors prefer not to deal with packing and shipping the book(s), but are happy to sign and USMail autographed bookplates - this seems to have the same effect on the recipient (an autographed book!), with far less fuss. Popular authors should always have a stock of bookplates around for this purpose.

      Thank you for a useful article.

    • SandyMertens profile image

      Sandy Mertens 8 years ago from Frozen Tundra

      Very interesting. I never knew what a bookplate was.