Ex Libris

As a kid, I was fortunate enough to grow up in a household that promoted reading. From a fairly early age, my elementary school had occasional book fairs and a sort of monthly book club. In fact each month, all of the students of a particular set of grade levels would get a cheaply-printed color newsprint pamphlet of books that you could mail order. It wasn’t quite mail ordering, as there was no shipping costs and everything shipped to the classroom, but it was close enough. It was always a highlight of the month to pore over this flyer, reading the descriptions of the books, looking at the pictures of book covers in their badly rendered Sunday comic offset printing.

My parents let me get books through this book-club-like thing every so often, but there was only so much Encyclopedia Brown and C.S. Lewis I could take. I kept wanting other books and would beg my parents any time a book-of-the-month club advertisement was on TV (the Time-Life Mysteries of the Unknown series) or arrived in the mail (mainly full of books for adults, but I still liked the concept.) Eventually, a deal was worked out such that every month, the family would take a trip to the bookstore and I would get to have one book. It was the frequency of books you would get from the book-of-the-month club, but with a lot more flexibility and variety. I think it also gave my parents an excuse to go to the bookstore.

This sort of roll-your-own book of the month club exposed me to a larger set of topics than I would have through the skimpy catalog marketed through the school to kids of my age range. I got books on science, electronics, computers, SciFi, and even convinced my parents that the Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set, which came in a box with a couple of books and dice, qualified for our deal.

In late junior high or early high school, this book deal with my parents started to wear down. I was old enough that the allowance money I got for doing chores around the house would let me occasionally get books if I wanted, but I was more into or records or tapes or other things.

But from early on, I had a favorite bookplate that I would use to mark books as mine. One of the drawers in my parents large antique desk housed (among other things) a box of bookplates, a stamp pad, and a custom rubber stamp with a square wooden handle. That stamp had my name in large, bold, sans-serif letters. At the time I had no idea what serif or sans-serif were, I only recognize it now, after the fact. For every book, I would stamp my name onto a bookplate and affix that to the inside cover.

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Above is what the bookplates looked like. I stopped using them around my teenage years and only ever think of them now once every couple of years. As best as I can tell from Internet research now, it is from a defunct company called Antioch Publishing. You can sometimes find overpriced unopened boxes rescued from estate sales on eBay and there is a company or two that can sell you bookplates that look like these (I don’t know if they are licensed or rip-offs) with your name personalized into them.

Last week, I ordered a stamp (from A-Z Stamps and Engraving. Shop local!) with my name and picked up a green and a purple ink pad. My intent was to stamp the inside cover of books, like a bookplate, and perhaps the outside edges of the pages of closed technical books I bring to work (as all engineers typically use a felt-tipped pen to write their name to identify their books.) An idea surfaced when I was chatting with my mom on the phone last weekend. I asked her to peek in the desk drawer and see if she could find a bookplate or two. She did — there were four left — and mailed two of them to me. I scanned them at high resolution and am now considering making my own bookplates. I could print the image on to Avery labels, but I am not sure if I will like that result. For some reason, computer labels always feel cheap to me and the stark white labels may not evoke the same feeling as the original bookplates. Alternately, I could dig up some parchment paper that better matches the original bookplate’s paper (I think I have some already) and find a to affix it (rubber cement, adhesive spray, glue stick.) Regardless — I am going to experiment with this idea and see what works.

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4 thoughts on “Ex Libris”

  1. When I went to a Lemony Snicket reading, Daniel Handler had a cool embosser to raise the surface of the page in a design, and it had spots for him to hand-write the date and his signature inside of it.

    It was very tactile, and came off very classy and cool.

    1. That’s really cool! I have (or maybe had?) a big round embosser with my initials that was supposed to take the place of bookplates, but the effect was entirely too subtle. It was hard to spot unless you were specifically looking for it. For something like the booksigning, I can see it being really great, though. Not only would it look and feel good, it would add a feeling of authenticity. Well, not just a feeling, but actual authenticity, like a notary stamp. I’ve heard that authors often have problems with people reselling “signed” books with fake signatures.

      One of these days, I need to read the rest of the Lemony Snicket books.

  2. Hello

    I am ready to put on E-Bay a package of Ex Libris bookmarks – the exact cat design label you had as a teenager. It is in an unopened container with 30 self-sealed bookmarks. Are you interested? I have no idea of what to sell it for – was just going to start out at a price and see what happens. Was looking on the internet to see if there was anything comparable when I came across your website.

    Joan Sue

    1. Thanks for letting me know! I can’t say I’m interested right now, though. Based on my experiences with trying to duplicate the bookplates (with regular sticky labels, transparent ones, and parchment paper), I think I have the bookplate situation covered for quite a while. 🙂

  3. Ha! I sell that bookplate but they’re almost all gone – originals from the Antioch Bookplate Company, where I worked. Its a classic. Glad that people are making their own bookplates and reading books. Making your own unique ones is probably far better than copying.

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