A book plate (sometimes known as an ‘ex libris’, from the Latin for ‘from the books of…’) is a small decorative label pasted inside a book. Usually a book plate bears a name, a motto, coat-of-arms or badge that relates to the owner of the book. They illustrate pride in ownership of the book, and also evince their owner’s desire to be able to prove that the book belongs to him, should it go missing or be claimed by someone else. Book plates can really help a book make its way back to the rightful owner.
Did you know that the earliest known book plates come from Germany, dating from the 15thC. Dűrer engraved some of the early ones. Other European countries soon caught on to the idea and throughout the 16thC they appeared regularly in private libraries. The oldest recorded American one dates from 1642. In England, the first recorded use of the phrase ‘book plate’ dates from 1791.
Book plates can be beautiful objects, with artistic designs, heraldry, cartoons and exotic decoration. They have become collectors’ items – one Englishman, Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks, managed to collect 35,000 of them, while a collection now at Yale which was amassed by Irene Pace boasts 250,000 plates. Today the various societies of collectors are grouped together in an International Federation of Ex-libris Societies which holds worldwide congresses every two years.
I have a few book plates – Jane Austen-related ones, which I bought and have placed carefully inside special Jane Austen books. But I think I should have a really nice one designed, announcing that the book is
Anyone artistic reading this newsletter who feels inspired to design a book plate for me, please get in touch.
Do you use book plates and, if so, why? Did you design your own? Have you bought books with old book plates in them which you have liked? Tell me by leaving a comment.
Comments are moderated, and will not appear until approved.