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Bookplates: Appreciation and Depreciation

· Bookplates,Appreciation,Depreciation,Fine Book Collecting,Provenance

Bookplates are often, if not mostly, wonderful works of art that add interest, and sometimes
value, to its host. Many collect bookplates ensconced in its custom place inside the front cover
of a book although some also collect unused bookplates. There are bookplate collecting groups
such as The Bookplate Society, London. There are as many collecting segments for bookplates
as there are for books.

Until the end of the nineteenth century, only the landed gentry, royalty, the church, the affluent
could afford to amass private libraries and almost without exception all had their own individual,
engraved bookplates, that would be pasted inside every volume. Costly and beautiful. Many
bookplates carried an inventory number.

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Bookplates help create the provenance for a book. And they tell of associations. The photo
above reflect two interesting owners of a book Religion and Policy by Edward Earl of Clarendon, Lord High Chancellor of England and Chancellor of the University of Oxford, Oxford
1811. The bookplate on the left, who would have been the original owner of the book is that of
W. E. Gladstone, Prime Minister of England later that century. The bookplate on the right is of
Frederic Baron Wolverton, a nice example of an armorial design with an inventory number.
(This book and its provenance will make an interesting musing in the future)

Late in the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth century more and more people
collected books and bookplates became more fanciful and many were designed by well known
artists. In fact, many specialized in this profitable field of business looking after their well healed

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Norman Lindsay (1879 – 1969) was one of the most famous, read infamous, artists in Australia
during the first half of the twentieth century. He illustrated most of his son’s Fanfrolico Press books in the 1920s and 30s. His devilish bookplate for Bertha Ashton, above, is found in
Fanfrolico’s Aristophanes – Women in Parliament for which he also contributed the

Now for the other side of the coin which is a phenomenon of the recent several decades. Those
generic bookplates that can be bought in any bookstore in small packages. Each bookplate has
a place for the owner to write their name. The presence of one of these in a book is an
unfortunate occurrence as an otherwise desirable book becomes much less so. They have
negative value. Just this week, I had the opportunity to buy two sets of books each with a retail
value of $500 up. But the presence of these defacing stick-ums makes the books unsaleable to
serious collectors. I had to pass.

And in the world of modern first editions there is no acceptance of bookplates, period.


Not to end on a down note, I love bookplates and collect those from illustrators I am interested
in. But they belong from the periods noted above. There will be more on this topic down the road.