Sunday, May 31, 2009

Day 118/365 It Is SO My Book

I pray thee, Reader, do not soil this book
Or mark the phrases which may impress;
that he who later reads may for himself,
Discover all its charm and truthfulness.

Of all the joys of bookselling, one of the most enjoyable discoveries are the vintage bookplates.

The verse above appeared on an engraved bookplate in a 1881 edition of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Apparently the reader took it to heart, because the volume was in pristine condition.

Bookplates started as a way for those wealthy enough to own books to mark their ownership. Having a great library was a status symbol (whether or not the owner had actually read the books). Originally in the 1500's, the wealthy patrons would have their coat-of-arms printed on the outer leather binding of the spine, usually in gold gilt.

During the 1600's and 1700's, small groups of specialized engravers (mostly in London) began creating detailed personalized engravings for the wealthy, usually including their armourial signature and motto. Among collectors these bookplates are highly sought after, and I've just discovered there's an entire book of Scottish Heraldic Bookplates (and yes, I want a copy).

In the late 1700's and early 1800's, the artistry spread to Hungary, where the word "detailed" took on a whole new meaning.

By the late 1800's, book plates had become works of art (this is commonly thought of as The Golden Age for this craft), and their use spread to all levels of society. At the most basic level, the plates were stamped in, mostly for public libraries and colleges, while individuals pasted in paper, and carefully wrote their names, complete with flourishes and swirls.

During the permissive age of the 1920's, Art Nouveau went hand-in-hand with the Flapper Age, and bookplates took on a more erotic style, drawing from Greek and Roman pottery influences.

Even during World War II, bookplates were used for commmentary.

In the Forties, animals and sailing ships seemed to have taken over the artwork.

By the 1950's, the pendulum had swung the other way, with the common man's bookplates being ornate and intricate, while royalty used the very simple, understated "letterhead" style.

Today, bookplates are once again artwork. Most bookstores carry a full-selection for the general public, and there are artists who create personalized art to grace a patron's treasured library, in addition to those working in altered-art medium who use both vintage and new to create entirely new works.

I myself still prefer the Twenties style of puppies-and-kitties, opening all the windows on the sunny side of life.

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