I now blog over at The Eyre Guide! This blog is an archive of my past posts.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Refined Reader (29) Book Plates

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,

The Refined Reader aims to take a look at the journey to where we are as readers today.  It's part history, part commentary - providing a brief, conversational summary of various aspects of our bookish past and comparing it to how it has affected us in modern times.  I love history, but I am no historian, and while I plan to do my research, if there are any errors, please let me know!  This is as much a learning venture for me as I hope it is for my blog visitors!

(Many thanks to Romi from Where the Reader Comes to Write for the idea of doing a post on book plates!  If anyone has any suggestions or questions about bookish history they would like to know the answer to, please let me know anytime, and I'll try to do a post on it!  I'll do the research, so you don't have to! :D)

The earliest known example of a book owner marking ownership of their book comes from around 1391 b.c. during the reign of Amenophis III of Egypt.  But marks of ownership evolved to printed papers denoting ownership which is what book plates have become today.   The need for them probably arose from how expensive and rare books were at the time, and how important it was to mark the owner of a particular book. The earliest example we have of a printed book plate dates from 1480, from a German monastery.  At this time, the designs were simple, but usually presented an armorial quality or some symbol or monogram that represented the owner.  It's believed that the practice of using book plates first spread from Germany.

The term Ex Libris (Latin for "from the books" or "from the books of") is often associated with book plates, and that term started to become widely used in 17th century France.  As book plates became more popular, they also became more ornate, and a rococo style of fanciful scrollwork which originated in France, became a predominant style.  In the 19th century however, styles were less rigid and encompassed many elements of previous styles such as heraldic and pictorial.

Book plates are not as widely used today, although I remember using them quite a bit as a child for my books.  Maybe my Mom was afraid I would lose my books!  But now,  I don't really like the idea of marking up my books with a pasted label or my name - it's part of my general aversion to writing in books.

Do you still use book plates or other ways to mark that a book belongs to you?

King's College Cambridge

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