A potted history of Bookplates and a 21st century bookplate commission

We spend much of our time at Bloomfield & Rolfe creating ex libris bookplates so we thought it would be interesting to provide a bit of historical background to the art of the ex libris – with some notable examples from the great and the good.

Bookplates date back to the 15th century when they would have marked ownership of precious illuminated prayer books. As books were the preserve of the ruling classes, they were usually heraldic or armorial, and this trend continued until the mid-nineteenth century. 

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 Samuel Pepys
The 17th century diarist’s ex libris, engraved by Robert White after a portrait by Sir Godfrey Kneller, is a portrait which was originally used as a frontispiece for Memoirs of the Navy published in 1690 – the equivalent of an author photo on the inside cover in modern terms - but was used in his private collection of books too. A bookplate showing the owner’s likeness was by no means the norm, but it would certainly make you think twice about pilfering one of his volumes… those eyes are saying ‘put it back’.

 During the Victorian era, with book-ownership widening, bookplates were suddenly in demand by those without a coat of arms (imagine the headache of not having a coat of arms!). The fully pictorial bookplate was born, and began to reflect the owner’s interests and personal history. 

Jack London
The author’s most famous works, The Call of the Wild and White Fang, are set in the Canadian Yukon, so it is no surprise that his striking bookplate features a wolf and some snow shoes. Again, the ferocious stare seems to act as a warning and I wouldn’t steal a book with this in!

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Rudyard Kipling
Designed by Kipling’s father, John Lockwood Kipling this fine bookplate captures the colonial and oriental themes of his son’s literature, life and interests. Rudyard can be seen riding and reading on the elephant with two servants, very much reinforcing his status. 



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Albert Einstein
Designed by Erich Buttner in 1917 this is probably my favourite Ex Libris of a notable person because it so brilliantly captures Einstein’s awe of the universe and the energy and forces which drive it.

At Bloomfield & Rolfe we draw on this history whenever we design a bookplate. To make our products affordable we design directly onto a computer with a digital tablet rather than carving or etching, but by creating highly detailed rubber stamps we hope to preserve some of the tactile wonderfulness of these examples.

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 For a recent commission we were asked to use a family coat-of-arms to create an up-to-date pictorial bookplate. The customer liked the idea of putting the wolf in a library reading a book, and we added touches like the axe leaning against the armchair, and the stars between the books to refer back to the original symbols. 

If you want to commission something similar email us with any imagery and/or ideas and we’ll get back to you with quote - orders@bloomfieldandrolfe.com

We can also, of course, create Bespoke Bookplates, Name and Monogram stamps based on personal history and interests.

Or we have over 70 ready-made designs which can be personalised with a name.