oming back to ex libris collecting and collectors, one cannot deny that there has been in the past four decades or so, a certain tendency for the mass creation of bookplates on behalf of collectors who want to have specimens for exchange with fellow collectors of high artistic and graphic quality.
Many collectors fond of the graphic arts, specially in northern and central European countries, tend to regard the ex libris as a mere form of graphic art at a small scale, easy to collect as far as space is concerned and also in economic terms, but totally dissociated from books. But, this has inevitable meant drifting away from the traditional purpose of the ex libris and its true nature [i].
So, ex libris tend to become, in the minds of some a mere object of collection – however beautiful and with artistic merit - having no relation with books and the love for them, which to a more traditional outlook is an “heresy” or at least a serious adulteration of the nature, purpose and significance of the bookplate.
This devious trend, as some might be tempted to call it, has been increasing and we think that this was greatly encouraged by some graphic artists from the former Eastern European countries who worked as book illustrators and to whom «ex libris» creations in a «massive» way, on behalf of western commissioners was a relevant means to increase their meagre revenues.
In these cases, sometimes little care was taken in producing a small print that bore any relation whatever with the future owner and the result - even if beautiful and with high artistic merit and performed with a superb mastery of engraving technique in many cases -, was invariably a true «miniature» engraving but not an ex libris at all.
So, nowadays, we arrive to a rather sad situation in which many who call themselves ex libris collectors are simply mere collectors of engravings [ii].
On the contrary, to some, the authentic bookplate lover equally values and appreciates the books for which ex libris are intended and the graphic art through which one of the several practiced techniques they are generally executed.
This collecting fever that has overtaken many amateurs has a further negative aspect: the fact that the ex libris creator – the Artist – has become the lead star in the ex libris firmament, little attention being paid to the person who commissioned the ex libris - the one who owns it and in whose books the bookplate is pasted.
he ex libris movement expressed in Meetings, Exhibitions, Conferences, the Bookplate Societies’ Bulletins or Magazines, and the FISAE biannual Congresses would certainly be much enriched if it would enlarge its scope and broaden its potential audience by attracting the attention and cooperation of people with related interests such as Librarians and other professionals of the Book Arts, like publishers, and book antiquarians.
The example set by the USA and Australia, where librarians from institutions, like Universities or Museums who hold large and important collections of bookplates, are doing an excellent work in the field of studying, classifying and cataloguing those funds with modern and updated technologies, should set the path for an useful collaboration in Europe.
Special notice is due to an interesting project of a Bookplate on-line Registry launched by the University of Notre Dame.
Another crucial issue that deserves to be reflected upon is the poorness of studies published or undertaken about ex libris, its history, artistic tendencies, and monographs on Artists with academic and scientific quality [iii].
In this field, Spain is a honourable exception setting the path for the future, since we have notice of two theses at Masters or Ph.D. level dealing with ex libris at Universities in Catalonia, and for the first time in 1987-1988, under the direction of Prof. Francesc Orenes iNavarro, a post-graduate course – Ex Libris History and Theory, took place at the Fine Arts Faculty of the University of Barcelona with considerable success, it has been reported, as far as results are concerned [iv].
Furthermore, having been working on a selected Bibliography on Bookplates at international level [v] intended for beginners in the field, we didn’t fail to notice the scarcity of Bibliographies published in book form up to now [vi].
On the other hand, a considerable number of publications on bookplates are small booklets related to artists, Catalogues of Ex Libris Exhibitions or Competitions.
Few works deal in depth with the subject and even more rare is the attempt made to write overviews of bookplate activity in a given country [vii].
Many relevant and important studies are scattered in the various magazines or bulletins published as articles and edited by Ex Libris Societies, but of difficult access to non-members and which are not also easily found in the National Libraries.
Here is another project that could well be undertaken under the auspices of FISAE - the publication of a world updated bibliography on bookplates, obviously with the necessary contribution of national Bookplate Societies or some of its members, in book form and or in a CD-ROM.
And finally, following a recent suggestion put forward by a Canadian bookplate lover co-editor of «the Art of Ex Libris» Website[viii], we are working in a project of launching an International Ex Libris On-Line Competition, where the traditional Catalogue and Exhibition of bookplates entered and accepted by the Jury would be posted in the Net!
Pace Et Bonum
At Cascais, on St. Vincent’s Day, 2003
[i] One could wonder if this phenomenon has any relation with the cultural fragmentation that still exists between northern/central and southern Europe on the one hand and the decadence of spiritual values that the so-called Western civilization has undertaken in the past decades, on the other hand. It also would be curious to learn how far these tendencies are dominant in countries with very ancient Cultures like China or Japan where the passion for ex libris ownership or collecting as we know them in Europe are quite recent?
[ii] The well-known Swiss collector and writer – Benoit Junod, commenting on this issue that divides collectors writes with wisdom and the savoir faire of a diplomat: «Today, there are still such perceptible differences in collector’s concepts – with the same variety of criteria for their pursuit as in any other field of ‘collectibles’. This, however, tends to enrich the landscape, even if it can lead to quibbling. It must, however be remembered that an ex-libris is a form of applied art, and not a free graphic; it is meant to be discovered in the intimate gesture of opening a book, and should be observed at reading distance, rather than in a frame at the other end of a room.” in EX-LIBRIS OR THE MARK OF POSSESSION OF BOOKS, published at «The World of Ex Libris» website.
[iii] Examples of quality can be seen for instance, in the works published regularly by Prof. Francesc Orenes and Dr. Joan Luis de Yebra. From the former, see for example, Joaquim Renart: Artista de Exlibris, in «A Arte do Ex-Líbris», vol. XIV, nº 108, Porto, 1986, pp. 189-197; from the latter, see the important studies on «Els Ex-Libris Calcogràfics de Josep Triadó y Mayol. Aproximació a la selva obra exlibrística, in «A Arte do Ex-Líbris», ibidem, loc. cit., pp. 153-188 and Pepita Pallé o la Pragmática d’una Divisa, «Colligite Fragmenta, Ne Pereant», in “A Arte do Ex-Líbris”, vol. XV, nº 113, Porto 1989, pp. 81-97.
Also deserving a special mention are the works regularly published in England by authors like Prof. W. E. Butler, Anthony Pincott and Brian North Lee, to name but a few. The latter, particularly, has an outstanding record of excellent books and articles published based on solid research dedicated to British bookplates and bookplate artists apart from his intense activity at the Bookplate Society.
[iv] For a more detailed notice on the Course, see, Prof. Francesc Orenes i Navarro, «I Curso Doctoral sobre «Historia y Teoria del Exlibris» en la Universidad de Barcelona», in “A Arte do Ex-Líbris”, vol. XV, nº 112, Porto, 1988, pp. 57-60. Prof. F. Orenes is also the Chairman of the Associació Catalana d’Ex-Libristes, from Barcelona.
[v] An on-line version will soon be published in the Internet.
[vi] The most recent bibliography covering Europe is by Klaus Witte, Exlibris-Bibliographie europaischer Kunstler, 3 vols, (Frederikshavn, Exlibristen), published in 1996-1997. More recently, we have partial bibliographies written by Karl F. Stock, Elsässische Exlibris-Bibliographie = Bibliographie de l'ex libris alsacien, Graz, Stock & Stock, 2001, and Exlibris-Zeitschriften. Bookplate periodicals. Bibliographie, Graz. Stock & Stock. 2000. For Italy, we have the book by Egisto Bragaglia, Bibliografia italiana dell'ex libris, Trento, 1987 and for Australia Mark J. Ferson wrote his Australian literature on bookplates: a bibliography (1899-1988), Sydney, Book Collectors' Society of Australia, 1988. Also from Australia we have Andrew Guy Peake, Australian personal bookplates, Dulwich, S. Aust., Tudor Australia Press, 2000, containing a bibliography. For the U.S.A., Mrs. Audrey Spencer Arellanes’ massive - Bookplates; a selective annotated bibliography of the periodical literature, Detroit, Gale Research Co., c. 1971 is still useful, although rather restricted in its scope. For Portugal, the last attempt of a comprehensive bibliography on bookplate literature dates from 1976, published in the Catalogue of the XVI FISAE Congress and written by Aulo-Gélio Godinho. An Ukrainian bibliography has been published recently, so we were told.
[vii] One of the few we know of, is again M. Benoît Junod who wrote an interesting and learned article at THE WORLD OF EX-LIBRIS website called - A historical retrospective. Also deserving special mention is the outstanding article written by the Belgian collector and author Mr. Luc Van Den Briele with an overview on Bookplates in the past half century, published in vol. XXX of the Encyclopedia Bio-Bibliographical of the Art of Contemporary Ex-Libris, edited by Artur Mário da Mota Miranda, Braga, February, 2003.
[viii] Mr. J. Stewart LeForte, from Bras d’Or, Cap Breton, Canada at the Ex Libris Yahoo Group (Mail List