Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bookplate Definitions

There is sometimes confusion about the term “bookplate”. This is because there are really two kinds of bookplates: the ex libris, ownership bookplate, and the author-signature bookplate.

The ex libris (“from the library of”) has a long tradition, dating to the fifteenth century. It has the owner’s name either printed or written on it. Ex libris bookplates are considered by many to be miniature works of art, and are collected worldwide. Wikipedia has an excellent history and discussion of them at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bookplates.

The difference between the two kinds of bookplate is noted at Empty Mirror Books.com: http://www.emptymirrorbooks.com/collecting/bookplates.html. Booksellers often make a distinction between a book that is actually signed by the author and a bookplate-signed copy. A used book with a bookplate signature is not worth as much as one that is signed, because, apparently, book owners like to feel that the author actually touched the book.

Some collectors and booksellers sometimes consider an authorial bookplate to be a defacement of the book, and believe that it detracts from the value of the volume. Novelist Larry McMurtry, who is a noted antiquarian bookman, discusses this in his book about bookselling, Books: A Memoir (2008). Most authors who offer signed bookplates, however, are little concerned with the future value of their used books. They care more about selling the copies they’ve just written.

There is also some concern among authors who offer signed bookplates that potential readers may not know exactly what a bookplate is. They are sometimes referred to as book labels, as McMurtry does. Dubner and Levitt, in their Freakonomics signed bookplate offer, refer to them as “stickers”.

Best-selling authors can usually have the bookplates printed and supplied by their publishers, as the Freakonomics authors did. When Ken Burns and Geoffrey Ward published The War: An Intimate History, 1941-1945, a book based on Burns’s popular TV series, Knopf printed 5,000 bookplates to be signed by the authors. Some of these books with bookplates signed by either Ward or Burns now appear on used booksellers lists. (Unlike Dubner and Levitt, who both signed their bookplates, Ward and Burns apparently signed individually.)

Random House notes on its website that its bookplates are created on special occasions by “renowned designer” Carole Lowenstein. She has been designing covers for Random House for many years, and was recently promoted to “Senior Director, Interior Design”.

Authors of books that are not bestsellers, however, are usually on their own in creating bookplates, and this site exists to encourage and aid them.

Jack McLaughlin

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