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.

EXPLORE THE WORLD – MY FAVOURITE TRAVEL BOOKS

With a new range of Ex Libris stamps celebrating exploration, I thought it would be good to share some of my favourite travel books, with something for all ages.

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Imperium– Ryzard Kapuscinski

Ryzard Kapuscinski is my favourite travel writer, possibly my favourite writer full stop. He manages to be both politically insightful and poetic at the same time. I also have an inexplicable fascination with Russia and the Soviet Union and so Imperium, which was written as the Soviet block was crumbling and visits every corner of the vast territory, combines both. A Polish journalist, he provides a different perspective here on the Soviet Union, and in his many other writings, particularly about Africa.  I have reread this one a couple of times, and it is more pertinent now in time of Putin than ever, and still exquisite to read as a work of literature.

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Around the World in Eighty Days – John Burningham

This book is simply my dream assignment – being commissioned to replicate Philleas Fogg’s famous journey around the world and document it through drawings (any commissioning editors reading, I’ll gladly replicate this!). Any fan of Burningham’s illustrations will delight in this book – images take the lead with brief notes on each destination like a travel diary. Published in 1972 there is a distinct hangover of the Empire feel to it, but it makes it no less charming or interesting and is perfect way for anyone of any age to spend an afternoon globetrotting and becoming absorbed in Burningham’s journey. It’s out of print, but well worth seeking out.

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The Songlines– Bruce Chatwin

Bruce Chatwin is another favourite writer and I could have picked any of his travel books. In The Songlines he attempts to grasp the totally alien culture of the Australian Aborigines (touching on other nomadic cultures too). Peppered with literary references from around the world on the nature of travel and the need for it, this probably isn’t a light or easy book, but I found it quite profound.

 

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Going to Extremes– Nick Middleton

Middleton sets out to find the coldest, hottest, driest and wettest inhabited places on earth and meet the people who live there. The results are evocative of landscape and climate and often very very funny. I still chuckle every time I think of his Siberian swimming adventures (and why NOT to wear swimming trunks). 

 

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My Granny Went to Market– Stella Blackstone and Christopher Corr

If there is a granny in your life who is always on holiday in some far-flung destination, this will strike a chord. The vibrant illustrations by Christopher Corr set off Stella Blackstone’s counting rhyme to perfection, as we follow Granny around the globe on her shopping expedition. Both my children loved this book as toddlers and it sparks real interest in real places (and the souvenirs you can get there – very important for any child!).

 

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This is the World– M. Sasek

A compendium of his famous series of books for children. Despite being out of date (many destinations dating back to the 1950s – although corrections have been added) my 6 year old daughter and my husband are equally entranced by this huge book and it’s mid-century illustrations. A proper coffee table tome, highly recommended and would make a fantastic gift.

 

 

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Lots– Marc Martin

A new oversize gift book about world destinations seems to pop up for children every week. Marc Martin’s Lots rises to the top of the pile for it’s stunning illustrations, quirky facts and non-Eurocentric selection of destinations.  Closer to the recollections of a real traveller than a tourism leaflet, it's a treat.

 

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Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica– Sara Wheeler

Antarctica is another of my obsessions – and I’m not sure if this book created or compounded my fascination. Wheeler (on another dream assignment) spends 7 months on the frozen continent recounting the history of its exploration, her awe of the vast landscape, alongside the village-like community of scientists who live there. Beautiful writing based on an intense experience which leaves you feeling like you’ve been there and met the people - travel writing at its best.

World Book Day 2016 - New Ex Libris stamps inspired by Great Literature

World Book Day - on Thursday 3rd March this year - celebrates the joy and value of books and reading. You couldn't really get more Bloomfield & Rolfe than that! So, to celebrate we've come up with some smashing new Ex Libris designs, inspired by great literature...

Clockwise from top left: 'Whale' stamp (inspired by Moby Dick); 'Train' stamp (The Railway Children); 'The Owl & The Pussycat' (the nonsense rhyme by Edward Lear); 'Wuthering Heights' stamp (Wuthering Heights).

All stamps are priced at £25 and can be personalised with a name of your choice. Perfect for stamping ownership on your own favourite books. 

You can read about World Book Day and events and activities here

Wondering where the lovely background images come from in the photos above? 

Every child in the UK get's a £1 book token this Thursday. Any of these books would be a great addition to their library.

Clockwise from top left: 'A River' by Marc Martin; 'Oi! Get off our train' by John Burningham; 'We're going on a Bear Hunt' by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury; 'The Storm Whale' by Benji Davies.

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.