Although bookplates have been used to mark the ownership of books for several hundred years, the period between 1890 and 1920 marked a highpoint in the quality of their design and imaginativeness. Many designs were still armorial, telling the story of ancestors and families merging using complex symbols and ciphers on a coat of arms, but other book owners commissioned designs from skilled engravers that told a story in a small, finely detailed picture. These pictorial designs captured some element of their owner's life, sometimes with a flight of fancy. An example is the bookplate of Althelstan Riley (left), which shows Trinity Manor, his house in Jersey; the mallard ducks on his pond that he was required to tithe to the Duke of Normandy, the title given in the Channel Islands to the British monarch, when she visited the island; and a knight on a horse holding a shield decorated with the arms of Riley and his wife. Designs such as this were engraved by hand, usually on copper, by a very skilled craftsman (they were mostly male) and then the design was printed on high quality paper in an intaglio process leaving a plate mark. The bookpate was then often trimmed to within the plate mark and glued by its owner onto the front pastedown of a book to mark it as ex libris: from their personal library. At the turn of the 20th century many collectors of books and bookplate collectors swapped their bookplates with other people. Some of the designs were signed in the plate by the designer and in this - who designed and signed bookplates with the initials WPB - lies a controversy, which is explained in the link below.
Bookplate (click to enlarge)
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Bookplates initialled 'W.P.B', William Phillips Barrett.
An example of a bookplate designed and engraved by J.A.C. Harrison.
Bookplates designed by Edmund Blampied for his friends.
(Page edited on 16/10/2022)