Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Ex Libris, The Art of Bookplates

I can buy and borrow books faster than I can read them.  I suspect that applies to almost everyone.  I’m in the process of reading five or six books at the same time at the moment.  Seven if one counts an audio book. One of these books was given me for Father’s Day by Daughter-who-loves-food.

Some books one is given and one instantly knows they are ‘keepers’ – books that will adorn one’s bookshelves for ever more.  There is, however, that variation of Hubble’s Law which says ‘As space contracts the number of one’s books expands’  as a result of which some of those books eventually find their way into the dozens of boxes in the loft. Anyway, to return to the subject of my Father’s Day ‘keeper’ book, it was Martin Hopkinson’s ‘Ex Libris, The Art of Bookplates’, published in 2011 by the British Museum.    

I’m already well into it and admiring the variety and beauty of the wonderful bookplates.   I was also fascinated by the information in the introduction which told me all about the craze in the nineteenth century for having one’s own bookplate and also for collecting bookplates.  A large number of books were published on the subject.  If there was something around for the Victorians to collect they collected it!  ‘By the end of the nineteenth century bookplates were particularly popular among those associated with theosophy, the occult and freemasonry, and decadence.’  Don’t you just love the juxtaposition of freemasonry and decadence in that sentence!  Apparently in Germany and Austria erotic bookplates were common from 1880 onwards. In Britain the Ex Libris Society was founded in 1891 and the golden age for collecting was from around 1890 to the mid-1920s. The crash of 1929 combined with the publication of mass produced bookplates on which one could place one’s own name probably led to the craze’s public demise.

I trust I’ll be forgiven by the British Museum for showing a couple of the pages of this book on the basis that I would strongly recommend any book-lover or art lover to buy it for themselves – either from Amazon or from the BM direct. Indeed, I would say it's an essential addition to a book-lover's shelves.

This is the unmistakeable art of Aubrey Beardsley, one of many artists whose work is shown in the book but there are also works by amateurs. 

This is probably my favourite as it features St Jerome, Patron Saint of Librarians.

 You can see from these pages the way the book is laid out and the type of information it vontains on each plate. One thing that surprised me was how few of those illustrated showed books or had bookish mottoes.  This was an exception and probably my second favourite. 

If I have a complaint about the book it is that it takes a degree of learning for granted.  Sometimes it will explain the Latin inscriptions on a bookplate, at others it doesn’t.  You may therefore get comments like ‘The motto, Dominus illumination mea, is that of the University’ with no translation of the Latin. Whilst not an issue for me it would be to a lot of people. The same is true of German so you get the (for me) infuriating sentence – ‘It is possible that the image of a naked woman riding a dolphin, drawn in an orientalizing (sic) style, referred to the publication in 1906 of Graul’s book Ostastiatische Kunst und thr Einflus auf Europa.’  So what was Graul’s book title and what was it about?  Naked women riding around Europe?  Hopefully Meike will enlighten me. However, those little annoyances apart it is a brilliant book and remarkable value.

Both scholarly and collecting interest was re-awakened in the ‘60s and in 1972 the Bookplate Society in England was founded.  It is still going strong and publishes both newsletters and journals. 

Judging by the number and variety of bookplates you get if you put Ex Libris into Google images the interest in bookplates continues to the present day.  Including that interest in erotica. This is a fairly mild one - Ex Libris Dr. Wolfgang Burgmer by Bortnikov Evgeny, a Russian artist (born 1952).

Partner-who-loves-tea and I created our own bookplate in the 1980s but made the mistake of ordering only 2000 and of putting the address on so we ran out and haven’t used them for many years now.  

My curiosity about bookplates having been piqued by this book I looked at a couple of old books I had and researched their plates.  This plate is in an 1874 bound volume of Punch that I bought a couple of years ago.

The Rev. Hon. John Robert Orlando Bridgeman was born on 18 August 1831.  He was the son of George Augustus Frederick Henry Bridgeman, 2nd Earl of Bradford, and Georgina Elizabeth Moncreiffe.   He married Marianne Caroline Clive, daughter of Venerable William Clive and Marianne Tollet, on 5 June 1862.     Their son, William Clive Bridgeman, became the 1st Viscount Bridgeman (1864-1935).

John Robert Orlando Bridgeman (probably known as Bob to his friends!) was educated at Eton and graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge, with an M.A.. He was the Rector at the delightfully-named Weston-under-Lizard in Staffordshire and held the office of Rural Dean of Brewood.  He died on 26 November 1897, aged 66.

His brother - the Third Earl of Bradford.

I wonder what route his books took to get to me?


  1. It is always fascinating to learn the story of an object and how it came to be in one's own possession, isn't it!
    And of course, I will enlighten you: Ostastiatische Kunst und ihr Einfluss auf Europa means East-Asian art and its influence on Europe. There, that was easy, wasn't it :-)
    I have not met any naked women riding around Europe recently (or ever) and doubt very much that this was a fad in Victorian times. Way too cold here for much of the year anyway.

    1. For the naked women riding bicycles, you would have to have been in London in the summer of 1978. Queen were filming the video to Bicycle Race (funnily enough a double A side release with Fat Bottomed Girls) which as well as including studio footage of the band includes shots of about 50 entirely naked women riding push bikes around a race track! For those who don't believe me the remastered video can be seen on the DVD release of Queen's Greatest Video Hits 1 (or probably YouTube).

    2. There are a few odd caps and some are wearing long socks, but definitely no helmets!

  2. "East Asian Art and its influence on Europe."
    I have more problems with Latin quotes even though I did take Latin in 'senior high school'. The words are one thing but the Latin grammar... sigh! - Btw I just finished The Book Thief!

  3. Thank you both - (obviously you couldn't see easch other's comments because they were both awaiting moderation). I much preferred the ides of him having written about dolphin riding females!

  4. Well... I'm impressed. I like bookplates although I seldom use them. I have some somewhere.

    Since I've never lived in Latin America or Germany I have no idea about speaking Latin or German. I've been in Mexico and so have a little Mexican that I trot out whenever the occasion demands.

    Nice to see you writing again.

  5. Again, I tried to lunch with you but you probably never knew it. :-) Actually I was trying to leave you a comment using my "Smart" phone. I read this lovely post but couldn't seem to navigate after that; not in the allotted time given for my lunch break.

    You have received a very thoughtful gift. I would have loved browsing through these pages...fascinating.

  6. I think books must choose us. In a 3 storey, (no pun intended) second hand bookstore, I came home with two very different books, chosen at random from the top and ground floors, only to find at the cash desk, that they had both belonged to the same lady...
    Your musings made me remember...

  7. Dr Mitchell's quotation reminded me of being in the house of a neighbour (who was also a colleague and a person with whose family mine socialised). I was looking at his books and rhetorically (as I thought) asked if he minded. He objected most strenuously saying that one could learn far too much about a person from his or her books.

    I feel quite tame just putting a little elephant stamp in my books (or a Kiwi in those I buy in New Zealand). There's a disadvantage of a Kindle. You can't put a bookmark inside the book.

  8. What wonderful book plates! One of my favourites is a fairly frequently used one with an illustration of a little 18th century man standing on a ladder, with books under his arms, and between his knees and yet another book open in his hands.

    I love your book plate too. What a great quote, and so true. So many times books have almost leapt off the shelves and contained just the idea or information I most needed at the time. Serendipity is one of the reasons I like actual books and book stores better than electronic ones. Browsing is half the fun!

  9. Dear Mr. Edwards,
    You might also be interested in my bookplate blog.


    Lewis Jaffe Philadelphia, Pa.

  10. Any knowledge about a bookplate with a narrative of:

    So It Has Been Since I Was Born

    coupled with an illustration of two figures - one a female with her hind
    end and legs in clear view accompanied by a second figure which seems to be male but the hands which are visible seem female and due to the damages to the plate - needless or appropriate censoring with white paint - one cannot fully appreciate this well crafted bookplate. Which is completed with: EX Libris S. Muramathu

    I would like to collect this plate very much
    any assistance would be greatly appreciated

    C Ramos


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