When it comes to collecting books there is not one way. Some people collect books on a particular subject, others from a particular author, or books covers designed by a particular artist. There are a myriad of collections, each one unique and personal to the person collecting them. When we collect something it is because something speaks to us, whether it is interesting or beautiful or resonates with us in a way we can't define. Me though? I’m a generalist. I’m like a kid in a sweet shop who wants to eat everything.
I think that’s why I’m a book dealer rather than a collector, because it means so many more books pass through my hands. My stock is my collection and it is always changing.
Today I want to talk about one of the reasons why people collect, and it is one of the many things that I like about antiquarian books: bookplates.
I love that moment when I open up a book for the first time and assess what I have on front of me. Is it a first edition? Is the binding particularly beautiful or tactile? Is there an interesting inscription, or a watermark, or booksellers label? Is the author important? Or is the content interesting? What about illustrations, are there any, maybe they’re all at the back? One of the things I like to discover is whether there is an interesting inscription or a book plate. It always feels like a connection to the past. The book becomes a piece of social history.
I don’t know very much about book plates. At least not yet. I joined The Bookplate Society a few moths back as I wanted to learn more. Their journal is interesting and each year you receive a publication to broaden your knowledge.
I recently needed to ascertain whether a bookplate in one of my books (Tottel’s Miscellany) was of Cornelius Payne the elder or younger. Anthony Pincott from the bookplate society kindly helped
me and through him I learned a little bit more about how armorial bookplates are constructed. For instance I had not known previously that when an armorial bookplate is designed the family crest of the wife's family is worked into the design of the bookplate. By looking up information regarding the Payne family tree we were able to ascertain which of the father and son had owned the book!
I have found that the older the bookplate the more the interest is to be had is in biography and family history as they tend to be armorial, but as time progresses so too does the bookplate and the owner isn’t always the point of interest. The bookplate evolved into new and beautiful designs. They become a little piece of art at the front of the book. A striking design can be of more interest than the person whose bookplate it is. Even better if it is both. Due to this the engraver began to be of importance too and some people will collect bookplates by a specific person.
There is a lot more to bookplates than what i've waffled about today, and it definitely isn't going to be the last time i'm going to waffle on about them either. Hopefully though i've been able to share with you a little of my interest in them.
You can see a selection of our books with bookplates here at our Blueberry Books shopfront on Abe.