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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