Friday, May 22, 2015

Bookplates In Israel by Yosef Halper

The emergence of modern Zionism in the late 19th century, ushered changes in to the Jewish world which were immediately reflected in bookplate themes. Until the first half of the Eighteenth Century, self-imposed strictures in individual possession of holy books began to loosen. Up until that time, Jews regarded books as holy articles and thus refrained from marking them as anyone’s personal possession. This was in deference to the prohibition from the Torah stating, “Thou shalt not add thereto not shalt thou take away from it.”
    As such, stylistically, the Jewish bookplate of the 18th and 19th centuries differed little from those of non-Jews. Plates were executed in the styles of the period and place, (England, Germany and Holland in particular) without any hint  of Judaic themes or motifs. What made them “Judaic” was simply due to the Jewish personage/family name attached to the plate. 
By Ephraim Moses Lilien for Reuben Brainin

 The Hebrew term,  “MiSifrei”,(“Ex-Libris”) first appeared on a bookplate designed by Ephraim Moses Lilien, in a plate executed for Reuben Brainin.  It can be safely argued that Lilien was the foremost innovator for graphic design in pre-state Israeli bookplates.  He came from Central Europe at around the turn of the century, to help establish Jerusalem’s renowned Bezalel School of Art.  Stylistically reminiscent of Aubrey Beardsley, his works made emphatic use of Judaic and Zionist imagery.  Theodor Herzl appears regularly in his designs, sometimes as a Maccabean -era warrior in armor or as Moses, in shepherd robes, leading his flock to the Land of Israel or even as the Jewish Messiah. 

One of Lilien’s most noted works was the plate done for Martin Buber. The plate is adorned with the walls of Jerusalem in the shape of a Shield of David, viewed from above. The inscription boldly states, “Das Ist Mein Land”. 
By Ephraim Moses Lilien
 Perhaps Lilien's most iconic work is that of  a bearded Rabbi studying from a holy book  (in a plate for L. Winz) which has been copied and imitated in literally hundreds of different bookplates across the Jewish world. This rabbinical visage drawn by him appears in countless synagogue libraries to this very day. (See accompanying examples)   
       One may say that the pre-state era, starting around the turn of the century, up through the First World War were the golden age of “Palestinian”-Jewish bookplates.   Innovative use of Hebrew lettering  as ornamental elements is seen as never before  at this time. 
       In a ground-breaking retrospective on Israeli bookplates,   entitled “Exhibition of Jewish Bookplates”   ( National Union of Printing Workers in Israel, Jerusalem, 1956) , this period saw “A reversion to ancient tradition by using the Hebrew letters as ornamental elements, thereby influencing the style of the Bezalel artists” .Along with  decorative use of Hebrew lettering, themes of the "Alteneuland” predominated as well. Shepherds, dreamy star-gazers in Biblical landscapes, and ancient Judaic symbols characterize this period. 

By  Herman Struck

By Joseph Budko

By  Jacob Steinhardt,
By Ze’ev Raban

      Other outstanding artists of this period include, Herman Struck, Jacob Steinhardt, Joseph Budko , Boris Schatz and Ze’ev Raban. To quote the “Exhibition Catalogue” again, “The plates of Herman Struck are of an exceedingly high standard….though thematically incidental to and do not characterize the owner of the ex-libris”. Those of Joseph Budko on the other hand, constitute ex-libris art par -excellence and keep with the traditions of Jewish graphics. 

They are outstanding specimens of Jewish 

With the rise of the State of Israel into the 1950’s and 60’s, use of classic Jewish symbols began to wane in Israeli bookplate motifs. No longer were the menorah, Magen David, Torah scroll and the Abrahamic shepherd prevalent, the Jews had come home. It was less imperative to prove a point, the Jewish State was now a fact, and all that was required to get there was to board a plane or ship. Graphic design reminiscent of the age came into the fore in bookplate design. Maps of Israel frequently become integrated into the design. Often the maps reflected the changing geopolitical situation in the Middle East. 

With Israel’s maturation, standard plate motif’s come to fore. Profession endeavors are depicted….Doctors employ medical symbols, scientists show microscopes, chess masters show chess paraphernalia and writers show themselves busily typing. 
By Arthur Szyck, 

Important Israeli artists of recent times who have produced bookplates include, albeit occasional ones, include Yaacov Agam, Arthur Szyck, Hugo Steiner-Prag, Emil Orlick , Menashe Kadishman , Yirmi Pincus, Moshe Sternschuss, David Davidowicz and Ruth Sarfati. 

Plate by the late Israeli artist Menashe Kadishman for Chaim Stenger . He was One of Israel's best known and beloved painters and sculptors. A large sculpture by him can be found on the campus of Lehigh University  in Pennsylvania as well as at the plaza in front of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.
 Sheep almost always appear in his designs.

By  Ruth Sarfati.
By Moshe Sternschuss

Through the 1980s and 90’s the waning interest in ex-libris use received a shot in the arm with the arrival of over one million Soviet immigrants. Traditional styles of Russian and Eastern European book-plate design incorporated Hebrew graphology and iconography.
By Leonid Kuris

 One leading force in this wave is the artist and collector Leonid Kuris who has designed many original plates combining Jewish-Israeli and Eastern European designs. 

A growing interest in bookplates has also been reflected both the sporadic exhibitions of bookplates and in Judaic auction sales. Since the 1980’s major exhibits have taken place at Tel Aviv University (March, 1994), Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheba ( January, 1995) and at various art galleries and community centers in the years since. 

Most notably has been the revival of the ex-libris as a collectible item. This renewed interest may be traced to the sale of 1582 Judaic bookplates to a Japanese collector through Sotheby’s in October 1991. The final selling price approached the $20,000 threshold. Since then, numerous collections have reached the auction market with prices averaging between five and twenty dollars per plate. Signed Lilien and Raban plates can sell for over 100 dollars apiece. In late November of 2014, a collection of 648 plates sold for $5700 at the Kedem auction firm in Jerusalem. Book plates do often appear for sale on e-bay, and interesting articles often pop up on the Confessions of a BookPlate Junkie web site, run by Lewis Jaffe from Philadelphia. 

An attempt was made in 1988 to establish an organization of Judaic ex-libris by collectors, Benjamin Katzir, Yohanan Arnon and Raffi Grunzweig. Sadly, the initiative did not take hold. Today, in light of the growing interest in ex-libris design, use and collecting, a new initiative at forming an organization of collectors is being attempted. 

Notes From Lew
Yosef Halper's article  appeared in the 2015 Year Book of The German Exlibris Society (DEG)

The German Exlibris Society (DEG) is over 100 years old, and thus the world's oldest intact Exlibrisvereinigung. It was founded in 1891 in Berlin under the name "Exlibris-Verein zu Berlin" and after a   wartime break from 1943 to 1949 took up its work under its current name again. The Annual Meeting always takes place around May 1 with participants from all over the world and thus contributes to the distribution of the bookplate idea. Like Germany many European and non-European countries - a total of more than 30 - have Exlibris Societies, most of which are members of the Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d`Amateurs d'Ex-Libris (FISAE). The Congresses of FISAE take place every two years in a different country in the world.
  Meetings were held to date in St. Petersburg, Tokyo and Istanbul. In 2012 the meeting was held in Finland.
For their annual contribution DEG-Members gain a bibliophile yearbook with scientific articles about the bookplate and with accompanying original artwork, three editions of the bookplate magazine "Messages" with the latest information of what happens in the bookplate world, and occasionally a special publication.

Here is the table of contents from the 2015 Yearbook.
 Although  written in German the year book is so well illustrated that you can easily get an overview of bookplate activity and designs around the world.

I want to thank Dr. Henry Tauber  editor of the 2015 yearbook  for his assistance in making this article by Yosef Halper available to readers of my blog .I used some images of bookplates which were not in the original article because they were clearer than the images I received.

If you wish to see a description of all the the yearbooks published go to

  In my own  library I   have a copy of the 2004 Year book .It is a very useful reference

 Jewish Culture and ex libris
Heinz Decker (ed. / Frankfurt / Main 2004) 
Themenband with 12 contributions. With originals of Leo Bednárik, Andreas Prey, Utz Benkel, Rudolf Rieß and Studer. 

Hardcover, 30 x 21 cm, 180 pages, 180 fig., ISBN 3-925 300-34-1

Yosef Halper is a bookseller and bookplate collector who lives in Israel.

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