Saturday, October 22, 2011

This Book Belongs To...

Forbes revels in bookplates.

From the piece...

The bookplate first appeared in the late 15th century, when books were still rare and highly valuable (for example, only about 180 copies of Gutenberg’s Bible were printed when it was first published in 1455). Rich book owners — almost always nobles — began commissioning artists to design and make woodcuts with their coat of arms to signify ownership. It wasn’t until the 19th century that bookplates reached their full artistic expression, when a new middle class began commissioning them. Without a coat of arms, these individuals — academics, museum officials, doctors, artists, lawyers, architects and other members of the bourgeoisie — asked for bookplates that would highlight their own achievements and interests, rather than their lineage.

Many of these bookplates included images of libraries, books and owls (conveying knowledge and wisdom — something that surely flattered those who commissioned them). One particularly ego-stoking one for the medical doctor George Burckhard portrays a heroic St. George slaying a dragon, no doubt equating Burckhard’s profession with the saint’s brave, noble act. Many of the bookplates are clever — one for a neurologist depicts a mermaid, a creature that was supposed to teach humans cures for diseases.

And several said something not only about the owner, but about the artist as well.

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