Scanning Around With Gene: Give Me Back My Book!
While I've always had a pretty big library of books, I've never taken the time to design or buy a bookplate -- that small label that establishes ownership and helps your friends remember from whom they borrowed that certain book.
Recently, while going through a clip-art catalog from 1947, I found a series of stock bookplate art, and that got me doing some additional research. Bookplates, it seems, have been around as long as there have been books, and having a personal design was once as common as, well, having personal stationery and writing actual letters. Click on any image for a larger version.
As usual, when it comes to anything culturally significant, we have the Egyptians to thank first. The earliest known marks identifying book ownership date from the reign of Amenophis III in Egypt (1391-1353). But it was the Germans who first popularized the printed bookplate, perhaps because they also were the ones who popularized printing.
Many bookplates contain the words "EX Libris," Latin for "from the library" or "from the books of." When books were rare commodities, a bookplate often contained a coat of arms, family motto or other trappings of the rich and royal. Here are several terrific examples from a large collection of the Pratt Institute Libraries, available on flickr. The first is from 1843, the second by artist (and type designer) George Auriol (1863-1938), and the third is unsigned and date unknown.
It is a bit unusual to find bookplates with an image of the owner, but here's another one from the Pratt collection by artist Samuel Hollyer (1826-1919) done for Walter Romeyn Benjamin in 1897. It's followed by an unattributed Italian design, and then another one with the owner's image, this time from President Woodrow Wilson (from the Library of Congress Collection).
Artists often designed their own bookplates, and many famous type designers were commissioned to make custom bookplates (Eric Gill did several). Here is the bookplate of artist Edward Penfield (circa 1900), followed by a 1904 bookplate of Charles P. Searle, and a late 1800s design for Anita Herriman Vedder of Rome.
Lending libraries and businesses often had their own bookplates, too. Here is an example from 1915 of a bookplate for the architectural firm of Sproatt and Rolph, followed by an example from the City of Asheville North Carolina, and then one from 1925 designed by Sidney Hunt.
As much as I like the custom-designed versions, I'm still a sucker for the clip-art variety or the kind you can still buy at most bookstores. I especially like the idea of children having their own bookplates, which implies that children once had their own libraries.
I was glad to discover that there are electronic bookplates now available for the Amazon Kindle e-Book reader. But none of them are as unique as this one, designed for author Edgar Rice Burroughs.
I've lost a lot of books to well-meaning friends who never returned them, and I'm sure I have a few of theirs. So maybe, as old-fashioned as it seems, there's still time to design and print up a few bookplates of my own.