July 19, 2011


        Bookplates, small decorative pieces of paper stuck into books to designate ownership, can serve as a miniature history of the decorative arts.  People have been marking their books since the invention of books, but the first proper bookplates, separately printed pieces with a picture in addition to a name, appeared in Germany in the fifteenth century.  The concept spread to France, Holland, and eventually throughout Europe and America.  These earliest bookplates usually consisted of coats of arms or other heraldic devices that identified the book's owner.  The styles of these coats of arms, however, varied widely over the centuries, because they reflected the current fashions in design, from simple to rococo.
        Towards the middle of the eighteenth century design branched out a bit, adding allegorical images, symbolic bits and bobs, and occasional scenery in the background.  These other elements gradually increased in prominence, pushing armorial subjects into subsidiary roles or even replacing them in some designs.  And so on, through the Victorian era, Arts and Crafts movement, up to the present.
        Of course, as soon as bookplates became popular there were designs mass-produced for all, as well as those individually commissioned.  I received a packet of stick-on bookplates when I was a kid, the kind with a blank left for me to write in my name, and just like most bookplates, the design of these was consistent with the prevailing styles of the time.  As the time happened to be the mid '70's, these bookplates were pretty dreadful, showing a full-color picture of some sort of overwhelmingly cute, fluffy, mouse-like creature sitting adorably atop a stack of books.  I loved those bookplates, and when I used them up I got more, (with a different design.)  I loved them so much that I now make and
sell bookplates using my block print designs.  All of these, however, are different from the individually printed, custom designed works of art that bookplates can be.
        Many of the most famous of printmakers have made bookplates, including Albrecht Dürer, Paul Revere, Thomas Bewick, M.C. Escher, Leonard Baskin, and Jaques Hnizdovsky.  I had a terrible time selecting just a few examples to share in this post, and you can see that I really wasn't able to rein myself in.  (Don't forget that you can always click on a picture to see it bigger.)  But I've included some links to some other places you can find collections of bookplates posted on-line, so if you're so inclined you can immerse yourself for hours.  I'm sorry to say that that's exactly what I did today, to the detriment of anything useful getting done!  But the small format, distilled design, and bookish connection are just too enticing to resist.  I'm feeling inspired - perhaps there will be some more bookplate designing in my future!

[Pictures: Bookplate for Brother Hildebrand Brandenburg, anonymous, 1480;
Bookplate for Willibald Pirckheimer, by Albrecht Dürer, c. 1501;
Bookplate by C. Stengelin, 1658;
Bookplate for and by (?I assume!) Francis Davis Millet, c. 1870-1912;
Bookplate for John Buck, anonymous, 1894 (Image from the Pratt Libraries Ex Libris Collection);
Bookplate for Roger Mougneau, by George Auriol, (Pratt);
Nursery rhyme bookplate designs by AEGN;
Bookplate for and by Edward Penfield, c. 1900-1925;
Bookplate for and by Henry Pitz, c. 1910's;
Bookplate for Meredith Nicholson, by Franklin Booth (1874-1948) (Pratt);
Bookplate for Gil Williams, by Jacques Hnizdovsky, undated (image from the Jacques Hnizdovsky web site);
Bookplate for Sylvie Junod, by Jacques Hnizdovsky, undated.]


LewJaffe said...

Good Morning,
You might also enjoy my bookplate blog.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

LewJaffe, your blog was indeed one of the places I managed to spend a lot of time yesterday! Thanks for sending the link - it's a great place to go for others who are interested in the world of bookplates.