Book Mention: Ex Libris, The Art of Bookplates

The British Museum and Martin Hopkinson put together this 2011 coffee-table book that is lightweight and small enough to read in bed. Miniature engravings reproduced in near-original size are pleasing to study, especially in their chronological arrangement. The art-historical trends become apparent as the reader makes little imaginary visits to new friends of days gone by and is invited into their libraries. Because the themes are personal, the invitation extends to their homes, workshops, studios, professions, livestock, countryside, and sailboats.

When printed books were cutting-edge technology, the wealthy owned the books, discovered a need for marking their valuable property, and commissioned their artist friends to design bookplates for them. Dürer’s 1524 bookplate for “the leading Nuremberg humanist” Willibald Pirckheimer covers the entire front inside cover of his 1516 copy of Cicero’s De Rerum Natura. This is apparent because the author chose to illustrate with a photograph of the bookplate printed in the little book; in Hopkinson’s book the leather edge of the Cicero cover is nicely visible all around. Why, it’s almost as good as being there, holding it, and taking a direct squint at the thing.

Zooming along to the 19th century, we see puns and cultural fads. For this William Harcourt Hooper bookplate I’ve scanned the page to highlight the page design, which is consistent throughout the volume. The book owner’s name was John Cargill Brough. The bird in the image is a jay. So the pun is
” ‘jay sea be rough’ “, in case anyone here likes puns. Also, the author makes reference to “the Japoniste style”. Who knew? It must have been a strong trend, seeing as The Mikado opened in London in 1885.

At the turn of the 20th century, Paul Türoff ran up this etching for his friend the Doctor’s bookplates.

By the 1930s, many of the images are often spare and clean-lined (Starting from Zero! ).  Thomas W. Nason designed this for his friend who made “voyages to Europe to etch cathedrals”.

This book is plumb full of treasures of this kind. Image search on an artist’s name often turns up more examples; it’s nice to have an author and curators show the way like this.

By the 1920s, inexpensive commercial bookplates had become readily available; book owners filled in the blank with their names instead of commissioning special printings.

Do any Ratburgers have favorite bookplates? I’m going to while away some time looking around here to see what I’ve got. Should anything interesting turn up, it will appear in a later post.

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14 thoughts on “Book Mention: Ex Libris, The Art of Bookplates”

  1. A wonderful post, @jzdro! I’ve never given bookplates much consideration but this makes me want to design some of my own.

    I’ll add, you are right about Europe’s infatuation with all things Japanese in the later 1800s. Impressionist Mary Cassatt emulated Japanese style in her etchings and aquatints:

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  2. Pencilvania:
    this makes me want to design some of my own.

    How would you go about that? Would you sketch and sketch until you had a pile of sketches, and then winnow them out? When you chose a sketch for your first bookplate, what would you do with it? Pre-computer printing processes are a total mystery to me. Back in the day it was “silk-screen”, whatever that was. Now we have computer graphics – but they look like computer graphics!  If you don’t mind my asking, what technique would you employ?

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  3. I draw by hand – first a pencil sketch, then when satisfactory I transfer that to watercolor paper or illustration board, draw & paint it in. I have a scanner, so then I scan it at 300 dpi, and in a word program (I use MS Publisher) I can place the ‘ex libris’ & my name in a nice typeface, above or below the art. I have a Canon printer, and I would probably use Avery labels – they are paper on the front side and adhesive backing on the back, and come in many sizes.  If they don’t come in the size I want, Avery has full 8.5″x 11″ label sheets, so I could print my plates, several to a page, on the full sheets & cut them out by hand.

    I did something vaguely similar for a wedding gift I was commissioned to do – I explained my process on my blog –

    Wedding Prayer Watercolor

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  4. Pencilvania:
    I draw by hand – first a pencil sketch, then when satisfactory I transfer that to watercolor paper or illustration board, draw & paint it in. I have a scanner, so then I scan it at 300 dpi, and in a word program (I use MS Publisher) I can place the ‘ex libris’ & my name in a nice typeface, above or below the art. I have a Canon printer, and I would probably use Avery labels – they are paper on the front side and adhesive backing on the back, and come in many sizes.  If they don’t come in the size I want, Avery has full 8.5″x 11″ label sheets, so I could print my plates, several to a page, on the full sheets & cut them out by hand.

    I did something vaguely similar for a wedding gift I was commissioned to do – I explained my process on my blog –

    Wedding Prayer Watercolor

    Pencil, you didn’t do that. It was someone named Pat. Pat has creativity and good taste. We could use someone like her here. Loved the colors.

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  5. Thanks, @Pencilvania. I’m interested to learn that 300 dpi is enough. Now I wonder if Avery makes labels on interesting paper – with texture, and maybe different off-white tones.

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  6. hmm, I see some ivory ovals by Avery  –

    https://www.amazon.com/Avery-Ivory-Textured-Easy-Labels/dp/B075LTQ7HP?SubscriptionId=AKIAILSHYYTFIVPWUY6Q&tag=duckduckgo-d-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=2025&creative=165953&creativeASIN=B075LTQ7HP

    And it looks like they do floral-themed ones for brides, though they could be used for any occasion –

    https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07CTWRD4M?ref_=ams_ad_dp_ttl

    I’ve used avery labels before & they have templates for their sheets of labels, so you can line up your text to print correctly in the center of the label. So fairly easy to do, and easy to apply.

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  7. This is great, thanks for posting!

    Anybody who likes this will also probably enjoy this book, which talks about Medieval scribes and the interesting ways they protected their works.

    https://www.amazon.com/Anathema-Mediaeval-Scribes-History-Curses/dp/0839003013/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1531767177&sr=8-6&keywords=anathema+book

    Even now in my notebooks at work I start them off, “A blessing on him who finds me and returns me, and a curse on him who finds me and pawns off the ideas as his own in the next review cycle.”

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  8. Damocles:
    Even now in my notebooks at work I start them off, “A blessing on him who finds me and returns me, and a curse on him who finds me and pawns off the ideas as his own in the next review cycle.”

    This is inspiring!

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  9. jzdro:

    Damocles:
    Even now in my notebooks at work I start them off, “A blessing on him who finds me and returns me, and a curse on him who finds me and pawns off the ideas as his own in the next review cycle.”

    This is inspiring!

    Maybe I should start my comments like that.

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  10. 10 Cents:

    jzdro:

    Damocles:
    Even now in my notebooks at work I start them off, “A blessing on him who finds me and returns me, and a curse on him who finds me and pawns off the ideas as his own in the next review cycle.”

    This is inspiring!

    Maybe I should start my comments like that.

    Nah. You have to act like you don’t care.

    So anyway what was that movie with Tony Curtis as Saxon knight-wannabe, visiting some Norman overlord in his librarium?  The books were all chained to the bookrack, of course, and the snooty Norman asks Tony Curtis, Do you know what a library is? 

    And Tony Curtis snarls back: Yes. It is a place where they keep BOOKS.

    Solving this puzzle from my childhood would help me a lot. Just so you know.

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  11. jzdro:

    10 Cents:

    jzdro:

    Damocles:
    Even now in my notebooks at work I start them off, “A blessing on him who finds me and returns me, and a curse on him who finds me and pawns off the ideas as his own in the next review cycle.”

    This is inspiring!

    Maybe I should start my comments like that.

    Nah. You have to act like you don’t care.

    So anyway what was that movie with Tony Curtis as Saxon knight-wannabe, visiting some Norman overlord in his librarium?  The books were all chained to the bookrack, of course, and the snooty Norman asks Tony Curtis, Do you know what a library is? 

    And Tony Curtis snarls back: Yes. It is a place where they keep BOOKS.

    Solving this puzzle from my childhood would help me a lot. Just so you know.

    How about “I don’t read your comments before I respond. Why waste my time?”?

    Or “I am so unbiased that I put a thumb of each hand on the side of the scale I like.”?

    Great Tony Curtis quote!!!

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  12. 10 Cents:
    How about “I don’t read your comments before I respond. Why waste my time?”? Or “I am so unbiased that I put a thumb of each hand on the side of the scale I like.”?

    May you always find that sweet line between the chaos and the order of RatburgLife.

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