Wednesday, March 27, 2013

On Bookplates

George Washington's Bookplate
I've never been fond of bookplates.  Before I started building my library and collecting my favorite authors, I didn't believe books should be marked up and I certainly didn't think foreign objects should be put on the board of a book.  But times are changing -- or rather,  I've changed my mind.  I realize now, that if I want inscriptions and signatures from my favorite (living) authors, then I'm going to have to use bookplates.  It's simply not cost effective to send packages of your favorite books to an author in the hopes that they will inscribe the book and it get back to your mailbox in good condition.  My recent success in contacting one of my favorite authors has encouraged me to write more of the men and women whose books fill my shelves.  But what to send them to sign?  A blank piece of nice stock paper?  Something with a personal design? 

Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks
Traditionally bookplates are small decorative labels that are pasted onto the inside of the book indicating the books owner.  Some are simple, and some, well, some are miniature works of art with intricate designs and fonts.  They are collectors items themselves. Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks -- British Museum administrator and antiquarian collector extraordinaire -- had 35,000 bookplates in his collection.  Yale apparently has around 250,000 bookplates in their collection.  That's a lot of bookplates.

Bookplates have been around for hundreds of years (the earliest known use as a printed book label is in Germany during the 15th century).  And years ago, when books were rare, aristocracy -- because they could afford books -- often had their coat of arms imprinted on the plate and placed inside each book.  

Still the question remains:  what type of bookplate should I use?  

Ernest Hemingway's Bookplate
This isn't an easy decision -- well -- it isn't an easy decision for me.  You can't remove your bookplates if you change your mind; you can't say "nah, I liked it without the plate, let's pull that sucker off."  If you do, your inner board will look like a bad case of road rash.  And while I don't own any books that are of any great monetary value, I'm aware that some bookmen believe attaching anything to a book will devalue it.

I'm leaning toward the classical bookplate: simple lines around the edges, lots of white space.   I don't think I will have "EX LIBRIS" printed on them (latin for "from the books," often meaning "from the library of").   I'd rather leave plenty of space for an author's signature or inscription.  I don't need the art.  I'll keep it simple. 

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