Thursday, February 21, 2008

Where Do You Get Bookplates ?

The etched Josiah Colby Bassett bookplate was in a group which I recently purchased . The name is not all that common so my research leads me to believe he was a lawyer in Boston who graduated from Harvard in 1900. The artist's initials SC are probably for Sheldon Cheney.
If you click on the image it will enlarge. Does anyone out there know the purpose of the smoldering basket on the pole ? I bought the plate out of curiosity and would love to know.

People often ask me where to find bookplates so I thought it might a good time to write about building a collection.


When I started this adventure about 35 years ago there was no Ebay so I built a collection without it.

Today Ebay it is certainly an excellent way to find bookplates from around the world. It takes time and discipline because there is so much clutter but it is still worth the effort.


When I first got interested in bookplates I joined both The American and English bookplate societies .That gave me an opportunity to meet with and obtain bookplates from other collectors.

It still makes good sense to join these organizations.


Antiquarian and used booksellers will go out of their way to help you if you make your interest known to them. It gets harder each year as the number of open shops decrease, and the number of pre -1920's books on the shelves is decreasing. Nevertheless , it is often productive. Start looking in either the poetry or foreign language sections as owners of such books seem to have used bookplates more frequently and there is often less turnover of inventory.

Ask the bookseller if he keeps a box of detached boards.I have found some excellent 18th century plates in such boxes.

I buy a number of bookplates from two dealers. One in the states and one in England.

Tom Boss will send you bookplates on approval. Just tell him the categories you are interested in and if he has representative items he will send them on approval.

James Wilson in England has often done the same thing. His contact information is

Mr. James Wilson, 22 Castle St.,Berkhampsted Herts, HP4, 2DW, United Kingdom
Hand bookbinders often keep old bookplates and they might sell you some.
I have always enjoyed going to shows . After a while dealers will save things for you. It pays to stop at every booth and ask. The next show I will be attending is in Washington D. C. on Friday March 7th . Here is a link to book shows sorted by state:
I am almost (not quite) embarassed to admit to the fact that I used to look up the ages of bookplate collectors and wrote to all those over eighty to inquire if they knew of any collections for sale. The point is that it was a very productive and I bought two major collections that way.
For the record I am Seventy so do not bother me until 2018.
I have occassionally gotten some remarkable bookplates by writing to celebrities but I have not had too much luck in recent years.Too much mail is filtered by clerks and more often than not you get a signed photo or an autopened label.
That's about all I can think of right now.I wrote the blog early this week. If you have something to add drop me a note


T Young said...

I may be imagining things, but the town depicted in the J Colby Bassett bookplate seems to have the sea beyond it. The smouldering basket could, therefore, be a navigation or communication beacon to ships.

Tim Haas said...

Colonial Williamsburg uses iron fire baskets like that pictured to illuminate the area in front of its State House (scroll to second picture):

t young said...

Back again! I happened to spot this while browsing something totally unrelated:

You'll notice at the top right that the burning hanging basket is the astronomical symbol for the asteroid Leukothea, named for "a sea goddess", so I'm sticking with my earlier explanation! :)