L ike postage stamps and wine labels, modern Ex Libris bookplates combine words and images in unique ways that are both functional and aesthetically pleasing. All three are produced at predictable sizes--and until the Digital Age--printed by offset lithography. They exhibit engraving techniques and letterforms that were developed over centuries.
Unlike their graven cousins, bookplates were made for individuals, not companies. There is no hierarchy of decision-makers to put a design through rigorous stages of approval. A bookplate is simply commissioned by somebody who values his or her personal library. Within this field, quirkiness and innovation are virtues because they celebrate the individual. The more successful examples make a poetic or universal statement while honoring the patron's ego.
In several future posts I will have more to say on the subject. For now, feast your eyes on these random examples of the genre at its finest. They were a gift from my wife, the cartoonist Carol Tyler. She purchased an almanac of bookplates at a fundraising sale for the library at St. Mary Of The Woods College near Terre Haute, Indiana. Most of the plates date from the late 19th Century to the outbreak of WWI. They are from both American and European collections. All were glued onto heavy black paper, sometimes front and back, making razor blade triage necessary. I am now the temporary steward of this treasure trove and will store them in an archival setting. Come back in early '12 to see a new batch.