On Bookplates

Do you remember the days when you went to the library, found a book on the shelf, and when you open it up saw a colorful bookplate pasted inside the front cover? The bookplate always had some kind of drawing, perhaps a symbol, image, or flower and then the name of a person.

That was what always drew my attention. Who was this person? What was their interest in this book, this library and perhaps the book fund that was established in their honor? While I didn’t linger long over these questions, I did always notice the bookplate and spent a little time thinking about it.

Cynthia Haven’s recent blog, Bookplate Porn, brought this all back to me. She says she misses “those exquisite bookplates you used to run across when you peeked into the top-notch books in the finest libraries or secondhand bookstores.” Haven is at Stanford University and on her blog she posts a few from the Stanford Libraries.

Here is one I found in their library:

It is describes a book fund established to honor a person I have known for over 50 years. In fact, she is my wife.

I met her in that very same university library when we were both undergraduate students. She said she saw me reading a book with my legs propped up on a table in the main reading room and that I looked like an interesting person. Ever since, she has been super-cautious about judging a person on the basis of first impressions.

Here is a bookplate of another person with the very same last name at the Stanford Library.

As you can see, it is less elaborate, quite simple in design, not unlike the simplicity of the person for whom the bookplate was established. She was a person who was very familiar to me in my youth. In fact, she was my mother.

She gave me a set of my first and only bookplates that I duly pasted inside the cover of all the books of my youth. Whatever happened to that bookplate? Over the weekend I searched in vain for a book that had one, but found to my dismay, that I no longer have any from those days.

My mother was a reader, a serious reader, who spent most of the day reading a book and pondering its meanings. She was a great admirer of the works of D. H. Lawrence, read everything he wrote, a fair amount of what others wrote about him, and eventually became something of a Lawrence scholar.

In time, she developed an exceptional collection on Lawrence. One day I asked her what she was going to do with it. She replied she would will it to the Stanford University Library. It did not take me more than a moment to say, let’s do it now.

And so together with my brother, we established the Shirley P. Katzev Book Fund at the Stanford Library that is largely, but no longer exclusively, devoted to books by or about D. H. Lawrence. The endowment has grown, the collection is now quite extensive, and we are told it is widely used by Lawrence and other literary scholars.

The culture of bookplates, like so many other tangible features of printed books, will soon disappear in the era of electronic books. No doubt, Cynthia Haven and countless others will then come to miss them even more.