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. 


 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!

Bookplate from PBD4370_395x520.jpg

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. 


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.


 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.

Case Study: Vickie & Rob's Wedding - 'building a life together'

Vickie & Rob approached us last year to design their wedding invitiation. They weren't really sure what they wanted at first, but knew they wanted an invite with a black line drawing, a style that they both liked.


After talking for a while on the phone, the idea of 'building a life together' emerged as important, and, taking on board Vickie's passion for baking, I came up with a tiered wedding cake design, which incorporated important places (the church they were to get married in, their reception venue, and Edinburgh where they have set up home); Peonies - a favourite flower; Vickie's beautiful engagement ring; barrels to signify Rob's love of whiskey and craft ale;  trees to represent Kew Gardens; all topped off with a pair of 'matroyska' dolls, to represent that they met studying Central and Eastern European History.

The invite was letterpress printed on Gmund Cotton 300gsm with a lovely deep impression. They used  bright fuschia envelopes and we digitally printed a bright RSVP card too.

In addition we had the pleasure of designing lots of extras for their big day, taking elements from the original invitation. This included an eight-page Order of Service,  Menus (which doubled as place names), a table plan, and, my favourite item, a 'guest book' poster with room for the guests to add their names/messages on pink stickers.

VR 351_2.jpg

If you'd like to commission something for your wedding, whether just a simple rubber stamp, or a whole set of stuff for your big day, contact us by email on orders@bloomfieldandrolfe.com.


Case Study: BLING! Deco inspired wedding suite with a B&R twist.

Robi and Daniel came to us with a gold foiled Art Deco design they'd seen elsewhere on the web. They liked it, but also liked the idea of creating something personal to them. Working with the Art Deco theme, the distictive square shape of Robi's engagement ring, and peacocks we got down to work designing their hand-drawn invite.

When they asked us to include their beloved 'baby', Juanita, it caused us to pause, but we think, with the addition of a smart bow tie, she fits in rather well with the design and their request for black tie attire.

The couple wanted some 'bling' on their invitations and by foil blocking the design on heavyweight 700gsm Colorplan Imperial Blue card, we think the results are rather spectacular!

To complement the invitiation we designed and digitally printed RSVPs and cards with additional information, and made an initials and 'Juanita' stamp for personalising envelopes and all those other wedding extras.

As the wedding day drew closer, we helped to provide finishing touches for their wedding reception with menus and hand-made table numbers.

The table numbers had hand-applied gold leaf on the front, and movie quotations on the back and look rather stunning en masse - ripe to be framed after the big day.

If you're interested in commissioning Bloomfield & Rolfe to create your wedding stationery, or for any other occasion, just get in touch at orders@bloomfieldandrolfe.com and we'll be happy to help.

Case Study: Cats and Street Food

A sneaky peek of a recent wedding commission.

Mary and Paul's shared interests were pinned down to street food, festivals and their cats! Their wedding would be informal with no 'girlie stuff'. So we came up with a vintage food van - and I'm glad to say Mary didn't veto the hanging baskets! Archie and Stella take pride of place and the 'GMW' on the number plate is an in joke  for their friends.

The main invite was letterpress printed in dark grey, with the pink/yellow/blue fairy lights applied by hand to create a pop of colour. We used Artoz 1001 lined envelopes from Bureau Direct.

In addition we created an RSVP card and an additional information card (both digitally printed, a personalised address stamp, and also a stamp featuring the van, to be used to personalise place names and other details on their big day.

If you'd like to commission us to create something for your big day - girlie or not - we'd love to help. Email us at orders@bloomfieldandrolfe.com

Case Study : Wedding Venue Portraits

Whether it’s letterpress or foiled, rubber-stamped or painted, from digitally designed to hand-written on hessian, there’s been a flurry of bespoke wedding projects running through the Bloomfield & Rolfe studios of late. 

We'll begin to share more of them here – including bigger pieces such as table plans, menus and other marvellous printed extras, many of which demonstrate our wedding venue portrait and bespoke wedding stamp options.

We’ve done all sorts of different designs and projects so if you see something you like, or have any other ideas you want to discuss with us please send us an email – we love new challenges as well as old favourites....

Here’s one of Holly’s from early summer....a table plan featuring a bespoke wedding venue portrait in black ink of Kenwood House. The swans at the top of each table were hand-drawn and based on swans from a vintage poster of Kenwood from the 1930s and the lettering was drawn by hand.

   The drawing in progress...


The drawing in progress...

Case Study: A Lovebirds Wedding - from off the peg to totally bespoke

How we created a bespoke wedding stationery suite by adapting one of our bestselling wedding designs.

Back in October 2013 Martha ordered several of our personalised stamps, including a Lovebirds Wedding Stamp  to make save-the-date cards for her upcoming marriage to Nicolas.

Later, in early 2014, she emailed to ask whether we could create a personalised wedding invite design using the Lovebirds motif, but incorporating  things special to her and her fiance. We came up with the following bespoke design using their favourite place 'One Tree Hill' and the London skyline as inspiration.

The invites were letterpress printed on Colorplan Harvest 700gsm using a magnesium plate to create a deep impression, creating a beautifully tactile finish.


As the wedding day approached we adapted the design to include the wedding venue, for the order of service, and the reception venue, Longford Hall, for the table numbers. For both of these we simply provided a JPEG image of the design so Martha and Nicolas could print out at home.

We're always happy to adapt our existing designs for your big day (or any other occasion!). If you'd like to discuss this, or commission something entirely unique, don't hesitate to contact us at orders@bloomfieldandrolfe.com.


An Arts & Crafts Wedding: how a commission works in practice

Here I am pleased to show off one of my favourite commissions and have included information about the process to show how we work on a project like this.

Sophie sent me an email last year which began: "You made a book stamp for me to give to my boyfriend for Christmas last year. It must have impressed him, as we're now engaged and are getting married...."

While we can't seriously take responsibility for initiating their happy day, it was lovely to hear that Tim liked the stamp and that they would like us to create their wedding stationery.  They wanted a Save the Date to start with, and then invites and extra bits and bobs further down the line.

They provided some great images as inspiration (see below) - they liked the Arts and Crafts reference to William de Morgan in the Birds in Branches Ex Libris design, and also wanted to use the work of Henry Wilson (a remarkably under-appreciated Arts and Crafts architect, metalworker and jeweller) on whom Sophie happened to be writing her Masters thesis, and who was the creator of her spectacular engagement ring and the other images below.

I then did some preliminary sketches to check we were thinking on the same lines and to provide a starting point. I'm playing with ideas and compositions here to see what will work (and what the customer likes).

A small stamp for all those extra wedding details

A small stamp for all those extra wedding details

Following feedback we created the following:

- a Save the Date stamp (large enough to fit nicely on a standard postcard),

- a small tree stamp for extra details

- the main wedding invites which were letterpress printed with a deep emboss

- RSVP cards which were digitally printed

- An address stamp (that will be used long after the wedding)  

The main invite (letterpress printed), envelope stamped with address stamp, RSVP card (digitally printed) and the  Save the Date design which was the first design we did.

The main invite (letterpress printed), envelope stamped with address stamp, RSVP card (digitally printed) and the  Save the Date design which was the first design we did.

Detail of the main invite showing the luxurious deep emboss

Detail of the main invite showing the luxurious deep emboss

Text inside the main invite

Text inside the main invite

The text style was taken from the Henry Wilson bronze plaque image provided by Sophie - if the lettering looks familiar it's because I liked it so much I have used a modified version on our Filigree range.

The very same bronze plaque is echoed in the magnesium plate used to create the invites and that wonderful deep emboss. As these plates are one-offs we lacquered them and Tim & Sophie now have them as a wonderfully tactile memento of their day.

This project was a two-way process with many many emails pinging back and forward, and was completed in stages over a period of months. Hopefully it shows how a single idea can be expanded and modified for a variety of purposes and to create something totally unique.

If you're inspired and would be interested in commissioning something for your own wedding, please don't hesitate to get in touch via orders@bloomfieldandrolfe.com - we can help with anything from a single small stamp to a whole suite of stationery.

Case Study: A wedding at Bluebird, Chelsea - invites and stamps

The Art Deco elegance, infamous clientèle, gorgeous original details and super-smart dining room make Bluebird Chelsea one of the most sought-after spaces to get wed urban-style - and our lucky client Anne had all that to look forward to, but first....the invite!

Anne wanted the building to shine in the design so we created an original watercolour-wash sketch of the building and worked with the 1920s look she loved to design A6 postcards using an original deco font and border in a stunning deep bluebird blue.

Bluebird Chelsea Wedding Invite

The double-bluebird motif was added as a nod to the union of the two lovebirds (...sorry) and was repeated in a roundel stamp with date for use on the backs of envelopes and for serviettes and bunting on the day.

Bluebird Wedding Stamp

Even Ralph the dog (star of our personalised dog stamps) made an appearance on the front of the envelopes – the perfect finishing touch.

Personalised dog stamp

Case Study: A Foodie Wedding

Here's a delicious wedding commission for us to share with you.....


Katherine and Ben were having a foodie wedding, and they came to us with a selection of images they liked as a starting point. The theme of cutlery emerged and after discussing their big day and getting to know them a bit, we came up with a design that incorporated a pig (hog roast), rabbit (for veggie Katherine, definitely not a bunny-roast), spring daffodils and a yurt (feature of their big day). The result is bold, yet subtly personal.

To make the stamp more versatile we decided to split the main design and the text into two separate stamps so the cutlery motif and the text could be used separately elsewhere on the big day.


Following the theme we made them a little 'Mr & Mrs' salt and pepper stamp for the backs of envelopes and other wedding accents.

If you like the idea of creating something totally unique for your big day, don't hesitate to get in touch at orders@bloomfieldandrolfe.com.

Case Study: Cattapilla Designs logo and swing tags

Harriet from Cattapilla Designs in Ireland got in touch at the end of last year asking for us to create a logo for her hand-sewn creations. She also asked for some additional co-ordinating stamps that could be used to make swing tags for her cushions and bags to tell their unique story, and also a business card and address stamp.  As her products are made using vintage fabrics and embroidery, we used an old-fashioned sewing-room as inspiration - I'm pretty sure Harriet doesn't use a hand-cranked old Singer in real life though!!!

Cattapilla Designs
Cattapilla Designs stamps

"Just wanted to say a huge THANK YOU for all the wonderful stamps.  I've just returned from trade fairs in London and Dublin where the reaction to the new logo was very positive - everyone loved it!"


You can see (and buy!) Harriet's latest creations at her website, and follow what she's up to on Bere Island at her blog here.

If you'd like us to design a logo or similar for you, please get in touch at orders@bloomfieldandrolfe.com.

Case Study: Palimpsest

Palimpsest is an online forum for like-minded readers (and writers). While planning their 10th anniversary get together they approached us to design a small commemorative Ex Libris stamp which we were thrilled to do. Rather than their own names they chose to use their online identities....

Palimpsest book group commission

If you're a member of a book group, writers' group  (or any other kind of group!) and would be interested in commissioning something similar, please get in touch at orders@bloomfieldandrolfe.com - ordering multiples of the same design can be quite economic and is a lovely way to mark membership.



Case Study: Bespoke Ex Libris for a young child

When a customer asked us to make a bespoke Ex Libris stamp for one year old Theo, they gave his interests as 'Bubbles' 'Ball Pools' and 'Books'. A conventional Bespoke Bookplate wasn't really appropriate in this case, so we came up with this design which we think captures his personality perfectly!

Bespoke Ex Libris Stamp

If you'd like us to create a special design for a child (or adult) in your life, just drop us a line at orders@bloomfieldandrolfe.come with any ideas you might have.  Prices start at £65 for a totally original design, including a gift box and ink pad; they make a thoughtful and original Christening or birthday gift.


Case Study: Chiara & Andrew's Wedding day

After creating Chiara & Andrew's wedding invitations earlier this year, they came back asking us to create accessories for the big day itself (which I had the pleasure in attending, in Umbria, at the beginning of this week).

See below for a run down of everything we designed and made for them, including place names and menus, table numbers, a bespoke guest book, and flip flops!

If you'd be interested in commissioning us to design something for your wedding day, whether it is a simple stamp or the full works, don't hesitate to get in touch at orders@bloomfieldandrolfe.com, we love a wedding!

Table plan

Following on from the invite design, we liked the idea of something hanging from a tree, and chose a birch plywood so each 'postcard' would hang nicely. The design, recalling the original invites, was Gocco printed and then handfinished with acrylic paint, while the names were handwritten (at the last minute!).

Andrew & Chiara table plan

They looked quite stunning against the Umbrian backdrop and proved quite a talking point as people gathered to find their names (and catch them as they spun in the breeze!).

Andrew & Chiara table plan
Andrew & Chiara table plan

Table numbers

Living in sunny Sydney and marrying in scorching Umbria, both the bride and groom clearly love the sun, hence the the table numbers. These were handmade and painted using foam board and oak supports (actually rather amazing giant plant labels!).  Unknowingly, they perfectly matched the bride's shoes and bouquet (although I'm sure Chiara was more than aware)!

Andrew & Chiara table numbers (in the studio)
Andrew & Chiara table numbers (in situ)

Place names and menus

We liked the idea of something the guests would wear (rather than immediately discard) so figured that the place names should be tactile and three dimensional. The result, 130 individual wired canvas leaves attached to (Yorkshire) twigs. I was thrilled that guests recognised that this referred back to the invitations, and was more thrilled to see an addition to the bride's dress!  The menus used elements from the original invites.

Andrew & Chiara menu front
Andrew & Chiara menu back
Andrew & Chiara place name leaves
Andrew & Chiara place names and menu
Andrew & Chiara place name leaves (on the bride!)

Bespoke guest book

Because the newlyweds are doing a lot of travelling after the wedding - honeymoon and then eventually back to Australia - they asked from something small that they could take and read on the plane.  The resulting book is A5 in size and bound in dyed green leather. I took the fastening used on the invites as a closure and included the image of the Castello di Montignano (by Holly) on the front page. 

Andrew & Chiara guest book
Andrew & Chiara guest book
  Andrew & Chiara guest book

However, my favourite bit  is the endpapers which I designed especially using the suns from the tables (and from the Italian summer sky!) and the leaf motif and lime green from the invitations and menus.


And finally....Flip flops (or thongs, for the Aussie guests) 

I can't take any credit for the idea, which was all the bride and groom's own, but I did knock up a design for them. No excuse not to dance!

Andrew & Chiara flip flops!   

Bespoke commissions: A stamp for a young writer

Last year Rolfe was asked to create a unique stamp for a very talented young lady, Daisy Dewson, who had just won a National Writing competition. The clever girl had won lots of amazing books for her school and her Mum thought this stamp would be a lovely idea to use to stamp inside them all so in years to come everyone who got pleasure from reading would know where the lovely book came from.

Well done Daisy!  We'll be watching out for you on the best-seller list in 10 years time!


Case Study: Chiara and Andrew's Wedding

Chiara and Andrew asked us to do their wedding invites - we jumped at the chance. Although they live in Sydney, they're tying the knot in Umbria, Italy, in the rather stunning Castello di Montignano.  Such a beautiful venue begged for Bloomfield and Rolfe collaboration and, via Skype, email and text message between St Albans, Leeds and Sydney, we produced 120 handmade bi-lingual invitations, RSVPs and info postcards with both conventional printing and hand-stamped images.

The venue portrait was by Holly (see Hollys Houses for lots more lovely examples and how to order); the other bits of Illustration and the text design was by Jenny.  We used Artoz card and envelopes supplied by the lovely people at Bureau Direct to give everything a quality finish.

We're always happy to take on commissions, big or small. We can create a whole suite of wedding stationary like this, or just a stamp or set of stamps so you can make your own. Get in touch at orders@bloomfieldandrolfe.com with any ideas or questions and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.


Invite exterior
Invite interior
Italian set

The entire Italian set comprising handmade invites, double sided info postcards, hand-stamped RSVPs, and envelopes personalised with a  matching address stamp and tree design. 

Map - hand stamped on the reverse of the main invite.

Map - hand-stamped on the reverse of each invite. 

English and Italian versions, ready to go!

The English and Italian invites ready to be sent. 

Later in the year we'll be designing extra bits for Chiara and Andrew's big day, watch this space!