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My Way to Collecting Bookplates

When I was a child I collected stamps like many young people in those days. But soon my schoolwork and my studies took all of my time and my collecting was put aside. My studies included history and after many years it was history that brought me back to collecting — now in the form of collecting bookplates. In the 1980s I worked at the Swedish National Archives in Stockholm. In that environment and having a great interest in history, I met the clever jurist and personal historian Bengt Rur and the excellent bookplate artist Bror Jacques de Wærn, who made my first bookplate, with a red water lily as the motif. They became my friends and introduced me to the Swedish Bookplate Society. The chairman of the Society was the well-known bookplate collector Lars C. Stolt, who as a gift gave me a large collection of bookplates. Through this acquisition I was able to start exchanging bookplates and set up my collection.

Not only the contacts with Denmark but also with Finland meant a great deal to speed up my bookplate collecting. The annual bookplate meetings of Naantali served as a great inspiration for me. The FISAE International Bookplate Congress of 2012 will be held in Naantali, led by Tauno Piiroinen, the chairman of the Finnish bookplate club Ex Libris Aboensis. In Naantali I have met many collectors, who have been interested in active exchanges. This will guarantee a very successful bookplate congress in 2012.

My first bookplate congress was held in Chrudim in the Czech Republic in 1996. I was especially impressed by the large interest for bookplates among the participants from Eastern Europe. Over 600 people attended this congress, so it was easy to see that you had discovered the “Bookplate Zone" of Europe.

David Bekker, Ukraine

I used to say that my bookplate collecting went through four stages, although I have collected all types of bookplates over the years.

1) The stage of personal history: In my work with the Medieval personal names of Sweden I got interested in the history of people from different times. Early on I found that bookplates represent an excellent way to gather information of people of the past. But important was not to limit the collecting to bookplates for special categories of people (for example: noblemen, academicians, and doctors) but to collect bookplates from all aspects of society.

2) The stage of collecting motifs: The next step was directed towards motif collecting. At least concerning Swedish bookplates, owls are a common theme. But subjects which have caught my collecting interest are runic stones and Viking ships. Even more fascinating to me are the motifs from mythology. I remember with great pleasure seeing the exhibition of “Leda and the Swan” at the FISAE bookplate congress in Frederikshavn, Denmark in 2002.

3) The stage of collecting artists: Many well-known painters, etchers have made excellent bookplates. When these artists are presented in monographs and articles, it is important not to forget their bookplate production. When you read about their bookplate designs, you also get a complete picture of the artist.

4) The stage of edition: It is always a good start with a significant bookplate collection to draw from for the illustrations for your text. You may be interested in writing an article about a bookplate motif, an artist, or a bookplate’s owner. Perhaps the bookplates from a special time and place in your country. For fifteen years (1994–2009) I was the editor of "The Bookplate Circular", a publication of the Swedish Bookplate Society. I discovered that owning a substantial bookplate library and collection was a critical source of information. It grew still more important, when I decided to conduct a survey of all known bookplates from Örebro, Sweden – this is a special town of about 100,000 inhabitants. With fascinating results, this was the only study of this type in Sweden.

Lucia Bonaccorso, Italy Heimo Virnala, Finland

When you begin collecting bookplates you must not forget the question: what shall you do with your bookplate collection, when "game is over". If you have heirs, you can never be sure they will take it over with the same enthusiasm you have. So you have two choices: a) to sell your collection as a whole or parts of it, or b) to give it to a library or a museum. I chose a library  the University Library of Uppsala. When I contacted the chief librarian he said "yes, thank you". A reason for this probably was that this library is planning a research project that concerns book owners in different times. Because I have about 30,000 items, it will be an excellent foundation for such a project. Since the 10th of December 2010 my collection is maintained by the University Library. But I am still a bookplate collector because now and then I visit my collection and add new bookplates to it. Nowadays I have all the advantages of building my bookplate collection without any drawbacks.

Carin Axel, Sweden


Ex Libris Chronicle
Director: James P. Keenan