Friday, June 25, 2010

Virginia Library Serves Up Bookplate Special

Bookplate Designed By Mrs. Kennedy,
And Printed By Tiffany & Co., in 1961.

(All Images Courtesy Of University Of Virginia.)

By 1500, printing presses in Western Europe had already produced more than twenty million volumes. It 's impossible to know how many of these were lent by their rightful owners to friends who somehow "forgot" to return them. Even though it was the double-dealing Polonius who advised his son, "Neither a borrower, nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend," anybody who's ever had an awkward conversation with a pal over an unreturned book knows the old hypocrite was on to something.

This Authentic George Washington
Bookplate Is Worth Roughly $3,000.

It's no surprise that readers as early as 1450 figured out that if they wanted to get the books from their private libraries back from errant borrowers, they needed an easy way to indicate their ownership of each volume. But who wants to spoil the binding or pages of a beautiful book with stamps or ink? Enter the bookplate.

Nelson Rockefeller's Bookplate,
Designed By Pablo Picasso.

Bookplates are an art form in their own right. A small rectangle, usually about 4x3 inches, gently fastened to the inside front cover of the book, and bearing the owner's name. Early plates often featured the coat of arms or crest of the book's owner (armorials), along with the Latin phrase, ex-libris. But, over the centuries, bookplate design became more and more personalized. Bookplates featured art commissioned from many of the finest designers of their day, such as Albrecht Dürer, Thomas Bewick, Paul Revere, Kate Greenaway, Aubrey Beardsley, Marc Chagall, M.C. Escher, Rockwell Kent, Leonard Baskin, Barry Moser. Book owners used the plates to convey their interests, hobbies, personal histories, careers, or even a pun based on their name. (This last is known as "canting " bookplate.)

The Images On Gloria Swanson's Bookplate
Illustrate Her Surname.

Soon these miniature works of art became collectible. Fine designs, on the best quality paper, and rendered by woodcut, engraving on metal, silk-screen, etching or pen and ink made them a desirable and impressive acquisition. Bookplates from distinguished owners are sought after, and plates from the libraries of George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Charles DeGaulle, Greta Garbo, Douglas Fairbanks, Sigmund Freud, Jack Dempsey, Jack London, and Charles Dickens to name just a few, have all made it into the hands of eager collectors.

Hemingway's Bookplate Reflects His
Love Of Nature And Bullfighting.

The Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library and the Rare Book School in Alderman Library of the University of Virginia are hosting an exhibition of some of the finest bookplates from a distinguished collector. Through July 29, 2010 the show Three Centuries of American Bookplates, will display the results of a lifelong passion for collecting by James Goode, a former curator of the original Smithsonian Institution building in Washington, D.C. "James Goode’s collection of bookplates is perhaps one of the finest in the country, and we are privileged to have a portion of it on exhibit," says Michael Suarez, director of the Rare Book School.

The University Of Virginia Produced A Short Video Of James Goode Discussing His Collection.

Mr. Suarez further notes that the humble bookplate "can teach us all a great deal about collecting, graphic arts, provenance and fine printing." What's not to love? Those little plates can even make it a little more likely that those volumes you lend will actually end up safely back on your shelves, where they belong. If not, there's always that old saw from Polonius to justify refusing to lend them in the first place.


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