Monday, June 20, 2011

The Demise of the Bookplate?

I hope not. But – if the book disappears, so will all the ancillary products that come with it, such as bookcases, bookends, bookmarks, and bookplates – to name a few. What a sad world it will be without these familiar and lovely objects.

When I was ten years old I proudly announced to a close family friend that I wanted to be a writer. She was the first person to take me seriously. She looked at me sternly and said, “First you must become a reader.” From that day on this friend gave me a beautiful book on every birthday, and once she gave me a package of bookplates. They were decorated with a tree and had a space for me to put my name. I remember carefully printing my name in each space and proudly pasting them in my favorite books. I was twelve by then, and had quite a collection.

I checked out the history of the bookplate in my encyclopedia and learned they originated in the 1500s, when a book was a great rarity, and a valuable commodity. The Germans were the first to produce plates in volume. Albrecht Durer designed and engraved a number. The first plates were engraved on wood, copper or zinc, and were usually ornate designs, involving the owner’s coat-of-arms and sometimes their portrait. One of the portrait bookplates depicted Samuel Pepys . There are several societies of bookplate collectors. If Ex-libris ever disappears from our vocabulary, those collectors will probably become very rich.

My only other contact with the bookplate was when I had a printing business. One of my products was bookplates for children. I illustrated them with pictures from old children’s books. One of the first orders I received was from FAO Schwartz. I printed the plates on glue-coated stock. Unfortunately the moisture from the offset press caused the paper to curl. (I had a habit of taking orders for things I had not quite mastered.) A crisis developed – and I had a deadline to meet! With great difficulty, I located a brand of paper that didn’t curl, but I was up all night meeting that deadline. It was a big thrill to see those little boxes of bookplates displayed in a basket on a counter of an FAO Schwartz store in Ardmore, PA. The illustration was of a little girl looking at a bird on her windowsill. I had lifted it from an old edition of A Child’s Garden of Verses, and one of my favorite poems, “Time to Rise.”

You remember how it goes. “A birdie with a yellow bill, sat upon my windowsill…”

Robin Hathaway

1 comment:

  1. Dear Kate,
    You might also enjoy my bookplate blog: