What bookplate, I wonder, should be affixed to “Steal This Book”?
Bookplates are artistic little labels affixed by bibliophiles to their tomes to indicate ownership and the owner’s interests. Many say “Ex Libris” followed by a space for the owner’s name. “Ex Libris” means, literally, “from the books” and more generally “from the library.”
I have some bookplates that belonged to my maternal grandfather, a gunsmith and historian with a keen interest in the Civil War and the American frontier. They are made of traditional style parchment paper and show a Revolutionary War soldier looking into the distance. They are still in the original cardboard box, and the plate stuck on the cover has my grandfather’s name written on it.
Bookplates are nearly as old as printing and were first used in Germany, where printing began. They started as an acknowledgement of gifts, such as books given to German monasteries, George I’s gift to Cambridge University, and St. Nicholas Bacon’s gift of books in 1574 toCambridge, or to assert ownership. I saw bookplates acknowledging the gift of books when I worked at the North Canton Library in high school.
One of the oldest known bookplates dates from about 1480, from a monastery in Buxheim, Germany. It shows an angel holding a shield bearing some kind of hooved animal, perhaps a donkey or horse. An English bookplate from 1750 shows a rampant griffin on an ornamental tray against a background of books on shelves. Among surviving early American bookplates are those belonging to Quaker William Penn from 1703 and New England clergyman John Cotton from the 1600s.
Bookplate art and content reflected the taste of their time. Early styles were armorial, originating in heraldry and coats of arms, which were common in Europe up to 1880 and in the American South in colonial times. An elaborate, hand-drawn and hand-colored English bookplate from the early 16th-century library of Cardinal Wolsey shows two griffins holding a shield emblazoned with a cross. Paul Revere’s bookplate from about 1775 shows a lion standing behind a shield decorated with stripes and fleur-de-lis, and George Washington’s, from between 1765 and 1775, shows a somewhat pear-shaped shield with stripes and stars topped by a crown and bird and the motto “Exitus acta probat” (The outcome justifies the deed.) Other common subjects are book piles, urns, allegory, hobbies, landscapes, and personalized plates.
Englishman John Byrne Leicester Warren, the Lord de Tabley, published “Guide to the Study of Book-Plates” in 1880 in response to the rising 19th-century interest in bookplates and established the standard categories: Early Armorial, 1574-1720; Mantles of Estate, 1700 on; Jacobean, the highly decorative style that was popular following the Restoration through early Georgian times, 1700-45; Chippendale, 1741-70; and Wreath and Ribbon, also called the urn style, which was popular during the reign of George III, 1770-90.
Bookplates also reflect the production methods of their times. They started as woodcuts, then used copper engraving, etching, lithography, and photoengraving. They were made from paper, vellum, or tooled leather, but most now are glossy peel-and-stick labels that lack the warmth and charm of their paper predecessors.
Many bookplates bear mottoes related to book possession or lending, such as “This book is not loaned,” “Return it soon and keep it clean,” a threat of papal excommunication for those who steal books from the Vatican library, phrases that acclaim books and study, and puns.
So with all the bookplates that underscore ownership, returning borrowed books, and papal curses, what should a bookplate placed in the antiestablishment book written by 1960s radical Abby Hoffman say?
- American Indians
- C. History
- Civil War
- D. Books
- E. Clothing
- Historical Clothing
- Historical Festivals
- Musical Instruments
- Ohio History
- Old West
- Revolutionary War
- World War II