Many Ways to Use Bookplates

The traditional use of bookplates, begun in the 15th century, is to identify the owner of a book. Bookplates, also known as ex libris, are usually decorative, with artwork that is meaningful to the book owner. Often they show the family coat of arms or some particular area of interest to the owner. Many well-known figures have used bookplates and many well-known artists have created them over the years, but they are available for anyone to use.

The Antioch Bookplate Company, in its early days, promoted the use of bookplates for ordinary folk, as people could order one of its many designs — often called universal designs — that are available to the public. No need to hire an artist to create a design specifically for you, although that is always an option. Many well-known artists, such as Lynd Ward, Rockwell Kent, and Robert Whitmore, created artwork for Antioch bookplates.

The Antioch Company closed several years ago, but Bookplate Ink continues to print their popular designs, both personalized and non-personalized. Many of our customers are individuals ordering for their home libraries, but it is noteworthy how many interesting uses people have for bookplates.

Memorial Bookplates: Many bookplates are placed in books being donated to a library or school in memory of someone, and are often books from their own collection. Sometimes, however, a collection of new books is donated in memory of a loved one, co-worker or teacher. One of our customers donates books to a nearby nature center in memory of her dear daughter, who died much too young. Another customer has requested bookplates in memory of her book club members. And many bookplates are in books given in memory of a favorite teacher or librarian.

University Libraries: Many of the bookplates we print are shipped to universities, either for their main library or a departmental library. Some of these are to designate a particular collection, or ownership by a university department. Some bookplates are sold at college bookstores, with the logo for school.

Kickstarter Campaigns: Who said bookplates aren’t part of the modern world? Bookplate Ink has printed many bookplates to be given as a reward for donating to a Kickstarter or other online campaign. These bookplates are usually signed by the author/and or illustrator who is the recipient of the funding. Many of these have been for comics and graphic novels.

Authors: Bookplates provide a convenient way for authors to reach out to fans with an autograph, when shipping a book or a signing in person aren’t possible. Author Bernard Cornwell has been using bookplates in this way for years. He has a significant fan base in Brazil and recently had his usual bookplate printed in Portuguese. Maggie Stiefvater sends bookplates with her own beautiful artwork, as shown below, to fans in the United Kingdom when she can’t go there on tour.

Gifts: Of course, one of the best uses for bookplates is as a present to your favorite reader. Grandparents and parents often order non-personalized bookplates as a stuffing stuffer at Christmas. Bookplates personalized with a name make a special gift for the holidays or a birthday. Many people are thrilled to find the same design they used as a child still available for them to give to their own children.

Altering designs

Bookplate Ink’s website encourages people to call or write if they don’t see exactly what they want in our pages of designs. When possible, we are happy to make changes to a design to fit the needs (or even whimsy!) of a customer.


Design N100

Author William Landay recently made such a request. Like many other authors, he wanted bookplates with room for him to autograph them for readers. Oftentimes, authors use one of our border designs, such as N100, shown here. This elegant yet bold border, printed on cream colored paper, leaves plenty of room for a comment and signature. We have a non-personalized version of this design, but can also print an author’s name, the title of their book, or even include a logo with our personalized version.

Landay image

Modified A124 design

But Landay requested changes to our design A124 to fit his needs. A124 is one of our designs with artwork by renowned artist Rockwell Kent, originally printed in the 1950s by the Antioch Bookplate Company. After many requests, we brought this bookplate back into print several years ago. For Landay, we made the artwork much smaller so that he would have room to sign his name and make comments. He requested “With compliments of the author” and his name be printed on the plate.

Another design that has been altered for customers is B217. Introduced by Antioch Bookplate Company in the 1960s, this design was created by Tom Eaglin, using the inspirational quote attributed to Quaker leader William Penn. We have printed this design without the “ex libris” text, which is Latin for “from the library of,” and without any text at all. With text that is vastly different from the original Penn quote, author Jeaniene Frost has used this design to create a bookplate that suits her style and books.

Jeaniene Frost version of B217


Design B217

The dark side of bookplates

Not everyone likes cheerful bookplates. Sure, we have designs that have inspirational verses or pleasing landscapes, but some people prefer bookplates that will ensure their books are returned, even if by threat. Design A124

One customer ordered our design A124, which is a rather serene scene by renowned artist Rockwell Kent first printed by the Antioch Bookplate Company in the 1950s, and included a stern reprimand from the Old Testament: “The wicked borrow and do not return. Psalm 37:21”.

Another included this incredibly explicit warning in our border design, B254:

“For him that stealeth a Book from this Library,
let it change into a serpent in his hand and rend him.
Let him be struck with Palsy, and all his Members blasted.
Let him languish in Pain crying aloud for Mercy
and let there be no sur-cease to his Agony till he sink in Dissolution.
Let Bookworms gnaw his Entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not,
and when at last he goeth to his final Punishment,
let the flames of Hell consume him for ever and aye.”

After hearing about these bookplates, my son suggested I start a line of bookplates with a dark and morbid theme. As we’re approaching Halloween, this seems like the perfect time to ponder such ideas. What do you think? Would that be appealing?