Bookplates are a bibliophilic treasure and often a more intimate gift than books themselves. Small sheets of paper, adorned with decorative imagery and the name of the owner, offer people the opportunity to respectfully leave their aesthetic mark on their library of books. Bookplates are an expression of style and personality, transforming a book into a unique and personal prize. In addition to being beautiful and expressive, bookplates also help ensure that any lent out book makes its way home!
Endlessly diverse and appealing, bookplates (also called ex libris, Latin for "from the books of") are small decorative labels to be pasted inside a book's cover to express personal ownership. Originating in their modern printed form in 16th-century Germany, where books were highly valuable and treasured, bookplates became an art form practiced by artists across Europe and beyond. (1)
One of the most exciting things about bookplates is the variety; there is no limit to what one can include on an ex libris label. Many feature animals or family crests, some are contemporary and feature poems or geometric abstracted designs. There is a style for everyone on your list, most of which are customizable to include a printed name! We tend to prefer bookplates that feature the name of the owner as they feel established and formal, but those that leave space for handwritten name additions are charming in their own right. Although ex libris designs are available in stamp form, we find stamps are often inconsistent—and there is no worse feeling than attempting a stamp only to see the result and feel heart-wrenchingly like you've ruined something you love! So we stick to pasting sheets—much less room for error!
The first book plate we want to feature is the plate several members of our team use on their own books: the slightly foxed illustrative bookplate. Featuring a gorgeous contemporary fox leaping between three books that are set in a countryside landscape, the bookplate feels elegant and modern and just a tad whimsical. It's a lovely illustration by Clare Curtis and we are sentimentally reminded of Slightly Foxed, one of our favorite publications, every time we open a book with this plate.
Next we have an antiqued mountainscape design printed on rustic kraft coloured paper by Sunshine and Ravioli. The masculine landscape imagery is complemented effortlessly by a decorative vine frame that culminates with a rolling scalloped edge. Pasted inside our books, this bookplate offers an antiqued flare that makes our book collections feel like they arrive straight from a luxuriously dark wood-paneled library.
Also available on Etsy are these glorious thistle bookplates.
This beautiful illustration is adapted from the cover of a book published in 1896. A gorgeous design of celery-green and gold thistles with stylized foliage wind around the name; the background is a deep emerald green, and richly-textured. (2)
While most bookplates use understated colour palettes, this striking green is properly bold in the best way! The art nouveau pattern is beautiful without being overpowering, ensuring that these bookplates are full of personality and offer a burst of style without detracting from the books themselves.
Artist Leslie Evans also utilizes color in her bookplate design. A majestically snow-blanketed sleeping fox offers a curled up knot of fur behind a cloud of falling snow dots. A bold initialling in the bottom corners offers identification without detracting from the simplicity and serenity of the image. It's so endearing and we especially adore how the winter theme aptly nods to the holiday season!
This dark minimalist design is actually the box to an Ex Libris Collection by artist Marcin Bialis but we are slightly smitten with the idea that it would make an impossibly chic ex libris itself! Masculine, graphic, and hyper-expressive despite the predominantly uninterrupted background, this bookplate inspiration make us want to add our signature to dark textured paper for some pretty epic book labels! Bialis's work is itself a bit sinister so a collection of bookplates like this would fit right in with his current offerings.
Another contemporary bookplate design comes from printmaker Tomas Hijo. Featuring a chameleon with a phenomenal spiraled tail, the linocut design utilizes bold line work to capture the characteristics of both the creature and a sprawling scroll that marks the owners name. It's a gorgeous and fun design that adds a striking graphic to our books.
Last, but absolutely not least, is Felix Doolittle. Hong Kong born Felix Fu shares an impressive collection of bookplates featuring his delicate and often whimsical illustrations. We love the diversity in the imagery, everything from upholstered chairs to newts are available to decorate the inside of your book covers. We also appreciate that many of the designs are cheerfully appropriate for children, giving you the opportunity to introduce young ones to the magic of books and bookplates. A personalized bookplate makes a book infinitely more valuable in the eyes of children and adults alike! There is just something about the mark of ownership that is irresistible.
A gift of bookplates isn't a one-and-done present; rather you are providing someone with a signature they can continue to use as their library collection grows. Should you give bookplates to someone you regularly purchase books for (we know several couples who annually buy each other 12 books, one for each month before the next holiday book exchange!) be sure to buy an extra set of plates so that you can add a bookplate to every book you gift to that person ensuring their collection of books remains cohesively marked!