Monday, March 11, 2019

My Favorite Bookplates


Perfect Ten
Rating Bookplates


BY


Katherine Peach


In the late Middle Ages, books were costly and rare—even after the invention of the printing press. Owning a small personal library of volumes was no doubt a source of great pride, but how could a fifteenth-century bibliophile assert ownership over his collection and ensure that borrowed books found their way back home?

The ever-resourceful Germans came up with a solution: the bookplate. Whereas once book owners relied on writing their names inside the covers (which easily could be scratched out), now they could paste a printed slip of paper into a book that not only proclaimed its ownership but also was a status symbol in and of itself.
The earliest known bookplate belonged to Hilprand Brandenburg of Biberach and can be dated to c. 1480. It’s a simple, hand-colored woodcut print of an angel holding a shield. There are more than 450 books known to contain Brandenburg’s plate.



Over the ensuing centuries, bookplates evolved beyond simple woodcuts to intricately engraved or etched designs that could be either mass-produced for book owners who would fill in their own names or custom-made for specific bibliophiles. They were commonly known as ex libris, Latin for “from the books of.”
Bookplates tended to epitomize the fashionable styles of the day, from fussy baroque to streamlined art deco. Famous artists, including William Hogarth and Aubrey Beardsley, got into the bookplate-designing game, and ex libris were commissioned and used by all manner of people, from everyday book lovers to world leaders, to the Hollywood elite.
Beardsley Bookplate

Needless to say, bookplate collectors are keenly interested in collecting plates that belonged to notable individuals. They eagerly buy, sell and trade detached bookplates, as well as those that are still pasted into volumes.
One such self-described “bookplate junkie” is Lew Jaffe of Philadelphia, who has been seriously collecting these slips of paper for more than three decades and maintains an informative and exhaustive blog (bookplatejunkie.blogspot.com).
When asked to pick his three favorite bookplates, Jaffe likened the task to “choosing which of your kids you like the most.” However, here are three from his collection to which he feels particularly drawn.



Rated “10,” best, is Jaffe’s own bookplate. “I decided I really liked my own bookplate, and it’s one of my favorites.” Jaffe commissioned the design from a young American artist named Daniel Mitsui (danielmitsui.com), who specializes in bookplates in a style that harkens back to their earliest woodcut days. “There really aren’t many bookplate designers in America,” Jaffe said. “There aren’t that many artists who have enough of a following to make a career from bookplate design. He’s one of the few; he’s the most active.” Measuring 3-1/2” by 4-1/2”, Jaffe’s plate features a dragonfly against a background of varied sea life—starfish, frogs, snails, fish and flowers, along with bones. “I love mine,” Jaffe said. “It’s humorous and funny.” Jaffe has used his plate as it was intended—pasted into books in his personal library—but he has also traded it with fellow bookplate collectors. Perhaps one day this will be a hotly desired collectible.

Rated “9,” better, is a woodblock bookplate that belonged to classic Hollywood director Cecil B. DeMille. “I chose that one because, really, it’s a striking image,” Jaffe said. “It’s in very bright colors—orange, gold and black. Very striking.” Jaffe explained, “In general, color enhances anything,” adding to this plate’s collectible value. The DeMille plate measures 3-1/4” wide by 3” high and was designed in 1924—at the height of his success in silent films—by French artist Paul Iribe. This ex libris depicts the phoenix, a symbol of knowledge that is appropriate for a bibliophile’s library. “It is a beautiful plate,” Jaffe said. DeMille is known to have had an extensive library in his Hollywood mansion, including volumes on history and design that he would have consulted for the making of his epic motion pictures. This is one of two DeMille bookplates in Jaffe’s collection.

Rated, “8,” good, is a bookplate that was designed for enigmatic Swedish-born movie star Greta Garbo. This glamorous plate measures 3-3/4” wide by 6” high and features Garbo’s iconic profile. It was created by artist A. Herry in 1939. “This one is really good because it captures her image sort of as a caricature,” Jaffe said. There’s a lot of crossover appeal to this particular plate; as with the DeMille ex libris, it would easily be treasured by both bookplate collectors and fans of classic Hollywood. Garbo retired from the screen in 1941, at the age of 35, having acted in 28 films and having been nominated for an Academy Award on three occasions. Notoriously private, Garbo lived out her later years in a seven-room Manhattan apartment, which she filled with her enormous art collection. Because she was an aficionado of art, she likely would have been charmed by this pleasing, spare design.

Note from Lew

Katherine Peach is a writer, editor, and record store owner based in Baltimore, Md.
She wrote this article for an antique journal which went belly up. With all the time and effort 
involved in preparation  I thought the article deserved to be published.
Thank you Katherine.




1 comment:

Richard Butler Creagh said...

Thanks for sharing!