Thursday, May 24, 2012

Let's Talk About Book-plates

A. Edward Newton Book-plate

This morning, I began A. Edward Newton's The Amenities of Book-Collecting. As to be expected, Newton's conversational style and personal stories are engaging. He writes of booksellers and book collectors that he knew and that are long gone. The first chapter is about book buying in London while the second brings him closer to home in NYC, Philadelphia, and Chicago.

Photographs of people along with samples of inscriptions and letters are generously scattered throughout the book. Mr. Newton, it seems, knew everyone. He collected presentation copies of books and liked to find books in their original form which sometimes means in boards and uncut. Many of the books he writes about are pretty darn obscure, but again and again he mentions finds by Lamb, Johnson, Dickens, Defoe, Thackeray, and Joseph Conrad.

He writes about book-plates. Here are his thoughts on the matter:

No book-collector should be without a book-plate, and a book-plate once inserted in a volume should never be removed. When the plate is that of a good collector, it constitutes an indorsement (sic), and adds a certain interest and value to the volume.

He tells how his own book-plate, made from a sketch he made, included "Fleet Street with its tavern signs, in the background Temple Bar with Johnson and Goldsmith."

The motto is from Boswell: Sir, the biographical part of literature is what I love most.

He sent this sketch off to Sidney Smith (1845-1929) of Boston, the distinguished book-plate engraver.

All of this brought to mind a box of book-plates I had from long ago. They were certainly not engraved by Mr. Smith of Boston. Now, book-plates are peel and stick. They pictured a cat sitting on a pile of books with the words Ex Libris at the top. They are still available. I don't think I ever used one as I was afraid to damage the book. Now I see I should have been proud to declare my ownership.

There are quite a few shops on the web that offer personalized (or not) book-plates for sale. It is fun to look at the different examples but difficult to make a choice.

As Mr. Newton writes, "The selection of a book-plate is such a serious matter."

Do you have book-plates in your books?

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