Bookplate Protocols

An Ex Libris Bookplate is a paper label that has been designed to be pasted into the books owned by a particular person or institution.

Sometimes called Ex Libris because this Latin phrase meaning 'From the books of...' traditionally appears on bookplates.

World wide, thousands of people collect Bookplates and there are Bookplate societies in more than thirty countries. Bookplate collectors form an international fellowship in which the exchange of Bookplates is the common practice and it is possible to build a collection of Bookplates if you have Bookplates to swap.

A modest personal collection is about 5,000 bookplates whereas some very serious collectors have upwards of 50,000 individual bookplates.

The British Museum collects bookplates and owns about 250,000 whereas Yale University in America has approximately one million bookplates.

Australian collections are developing and the State Library of Victoria has about 60,000 bookplates. 

You can look at bookplates in any major State, National or university library.

Pictorial Bookplates are collected because of: their subject matter; the person for whom they were created; or for the artist who created them. In the past, really well known Australian artists have created Bookplates, such as: Adrian Feint, Allan Jordan, Pro Hart, David Frazer, Helen Ogilvie, Kenneth Jack, L. Roy Davies, Lionel Lindsay, Norman Lindsay, Pixie O’Harris, Tom Roberts, D. H. Souter and Eric Thake.     A Bookplate design can be created in any medium that can be replicated in order to provide the owner with multiple copies of the design. Ex libris Bookplates can be created in a range of mediums including drawings, photographs and computer based designs. Bookplates are highly sought after collectables when created as original graphic prints such as: etchings, wood engravings, woodcuts and linocuts. 

Most collectors think a Bookplate design should say something about the person for whom it was made and traditionally reflects some aspect of the person’s status, achievements, philosophical or vocational interests, hobbies etc. On the other hand, pictorial Bookplates can simply be good designs. 

A Bookplate usually bears the name or the initials of the person for whom it was created together with words such as: ‘Ex Libris’ or ‘This Book Belongs To’ or ‘His Book’ or ‘Her Book’. Without such words and the name or initials of the owner a design is simply not a personal Bookplate. A Bookplate design bearing the words but nobody’s name is a universal Bookplate that can be used by anybody. Bookplates must be sized to fit within the books for which they are intended. Small books require small Bookplates. Larger books can accommodate big or small Bookplates. Most Bookplate design awards don’t permit Bookplates bigger than 150 x 150mm. Some awards call for designs within 100 x 100 mm. When thinking Ex Libris, ‘small is beautiful’.

If you want to commission a personal Bookplate from an artist:

Keep the brief simple, don’t demand the design to reflect every single aspect of your life. Think of what is important to you at this point in time.

Make sure the artist’s chosen medium is exactly what you want and can be easily replicated.

Establish the contract with the artist so that you know exactly what you’ll receive for your money … how many copies/proofs and how many of them will be signed.

Remember, the quality and type of Bookplate you commission will determine the kind of Bookplate collection you will establish when you exchange your Bookplate with other collectors who prefer to exchange ‘type for type’. 

A typical Bookplate commission might be to ask a printmaker to create a linocut design and you would expect to approve a drawn concept and receive one hundred signed proofs printed on fine light-weight paper, the original block and any design roughs. For that, a printmaker could expect about $500 which is the going rate for competent Bookplate designers internationally. More well known artist usually receive a higher fee. Inexperienced artists could receive $300 or less. In giving you the block, plate or matrix, the artist is expecting that you will have other people print it at a later date but copyright will always belong to the artist.