Bookplates are printed paper name plates that are fixed to the covers of books to mark who they belong to. Book lovers have used these for centuries, not just to declare ownership of a book, but to enhance the beauty of their book collection.
In many parts of the world, bookplates are called Ex Libris from the Latin meaning ‘from the library of’, This is one of the most common phrases you will see used in bookplates.
The earliest examples date from the fifteenth century. Some contain warnings against failure to return a book or hints of bad things that might befall a thief. An early European bookplate wished that wrongdoers "might be kissed by a hedgehog".
Up until the twentieth century, bookplates were mainly used by aristocratic families in Europe for their library collections and the design was usually no more than the coat of arms of the family
As more and more people could afford their own books In the late nineteenth century there was an explosion of creativity in the design of bookplates. At the same time more artists took an interest in the format and began creating specially commissioned designs.
Instead of dull armorial seals and grandiose shields or castles, the new bookplates featured such things as favorite animals and trees. Many were produced for children to encourage them to treasure books.
The collecting of bookplates also became popular and some of the most famous artists of the day produced designs in the twentieth century which now fetch very high prices.
Bookplates and Ex Libris around the World.
Many countries have strong traditions of producing and using bookplates, You can find images of some of the best American-produced bookplates at the website below It is also an interesting glimpse into the world of those people who are fanatical in their love of ex libris.
The Spanish speaking world has an especially rich history of producing highly unusual and very personal bookplates. For some unusual examples of bookplates you might like to view the collection at the site below.
In Japan, bookplates have traditionally been very colorful in contrast to European designs. Often they show shrines, images of Buddha or temples. Traditional cultural pursuits like kabuki theatre are also popular.
Commission or Buy a Bookplate
In days gone by, a bookplate would be printed from wood cuts or from engraved metal pates. Often the bookplates would be monochromatic, although sometimes they would be printed then colored by hand.
Nowadays, bookplates can still be designed and printed to order in traditional styles.The Bookplate Society has a page of artists who will accept commissions.
The arts and crafts website Etsy offer bookplates that have been produced by individual designers. Some will personalize a bookplate for you at a surprisingly low cost. There is an example to the right but many others can be found with a search of the site.
eBay is a good place to hunt for bargains.
Make your own Bookplates
You can make a bookplate at home on a computer and simply print it off. You can use also use rubber stamps to print off a design.
Use a Stamp
Websites and some craft stores sell ready made stamps which you can use to make a bookplate when you need one. Rubber stamps are sometimes used to stamp a book directly- this is just a matter of taste.
Completely original rubber stamps can be made at home with kits bought online. You can create a design on a computer or paper then convert it into a stamp with an ingenious apparatus.
For those with craft skills ( and a few carving tools) this site shows you how to carve a rubber stamp.
Some traditionalists like to use wooden stamps to create the effect of the early bookplates produced from wood cuts. Woodcuts are are more difficult to produce but if you want to learn the skills try this site.
Computer software-designed Bookplates
If you have graphics software like Adobe Photoshop or SVG software like inkscape it is easy to produce and print your own bookplates.
If you don’t have this kind of software you could try using the free software at paintnet.com.
Free Bookplates for Children
Encouraging children to read and love books is one of the best things that you can do for any child. As we all know, every book is a new world and leads on to other new worlds. Bookplates encourage children to see books as special and very personal. They can also inspire a collecting spirit which can spill over into many other areas.
Myhomelibrary has a huge range of wonderful, free bookplates that can be downloaded and printed. There are contributions from some of the world’s leading children’s illustrators like Raymond Briggs (of Snowman fame) and Martin Brown.
John Dyhouse from UK on September 10, 2014:
Very interesting background and useful tips. As a collage artist, I have a collection of these items which can be very beautiful. I have modified one or two of my collection for my personal use. I have a large collection of both fiction and non-fiction.