Fine Art Connoisseur


A monogram. Signet rings. The school scarf. We have long fashioned accoutrements to reflect our personal and tribal identities. You might easily include bookplates in this universe, too. Created to mark possession of a printed work and to guide an errant volume back to its proper place in the library, these pasted-in nametags are as much affirmations of personality as they are signals of ownership. As the British writer and critic Sir Edmund Gosse (1849–1928) opined in 1913, “The outward and visible mark of the citizenship of the book-lover is his book-plate.”

Bookplates first appeared not long after Johannes Gutenberg blessed Europe with movable type in 1439. Among the oldest extant are those of Hilprand Brandenburg of Biberach, a Carthusian monk who lived in a monastery in Buxheim, Germany. Dating from the 1470s, one of his woodcuts depicts an angel holding a shield that bears Brandenburg’s family crest.

The nobility and ecclesiastical elite had long branded the fine leather bindings of books with their own coats of arms, so such heraldic motifs remained a go-to design as use of the bookplate spread among men of means and learning. A colored woodcut that Lucas Cranach

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