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The Bookplate Society has had an unusual but rather impressive history. In 1891 a group of serious ex-libris collectors met and founded the Ex Libris Society, which for eighteen years published a well-illustrated journal, still a useful source of information about British Cover of the Ex Libris Journal, designed by John Leighton bookplates. Falling membership and a financial crisis brought the Society to a sudden end in 1908, with much remaining to be published. However, The Bookplate Exchange Club, a group formed in 1899 within the Society, continued to thrive. Participants sent in thirty bookplates monthly, or fewer in hard times, and these were circulated by post. A member moved up one place each month until at the top he had 'first pick', after which he started again at the bottom of the list. This congenial fellowship survived for over eighty years, and it was the natural, inexpensive and much loved successor to the old Society. During the 1920s and 1950s other bookplate societies were set up, but these did not survive.

From about 1970 Brian North Lee was discussing with Peter Summers, the Exchange Club's last secretary, ways in which communication between collectors could be extended and enriched. They came up with the idea of founding The Bookplate Society. This began in 1972, and the plan was that it should hold meetings in London four times a year, and that a Newsletter should keep people in touch. This Newsletter began modestly, but was quickly expanded, and contacts with Logo of 1982 Congress the international collecting fraternity grew. In 1979 we arranged a comprehensive exhibition of British bookplates at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and a meeting attended by a number of overseas visitors was held over a weekend at Gray's Inn Library. These were very exciting days, for not only were we as a society 'on the map' again, but we felt we had come of age, and this belief was confirmed when in 1982, as a member society of F.I.S.A.E. (Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d'Amateurs d'Exlibris) we hosted the 19th International Ex-Libris Congress at Keble College, Oxford. The proceeds from this highly successful event enabled us, in 1983, to close the joint membership arrangements with The Private Libraries Association and to extend our publishing programme.

The Bookplate Journal was the brainchild of Professor William E. Butler, and it has gone from strength to strength. The Newsletter was cut down in size, but as a more than adequate compensation we started to supply a book free to members each year. The Bookplate Journal is published each March and September and in 2003, under the editorship of Paul Latcham, started its Second Series in an enlarged and much improved format with 72 pages per issue. There are generally two or three substantial and well-illustrated articles, sometimes a book review, bookplates reproduced for identification, a detailed history of a bookplate, and an in-depth study of an artist's work, with a check-list. Although principally about British bookplates and their artists and history, the subject-matter extends to bookplates produced in other countries. Most back issues are still available. Indexes are printed and supplied to members at the completion of every four volumes. The publications page on this website has a list of articles which have appeared in The Bookplate Journal during recent years. From the second half of 2009 Peter Youatt has taken over the post of editor following Paul Latcham's retirement from the role he carried out with great skill and success.

The Bookplate Society Newsletter, issued in A5 format, is now published half-yearly in June and December. It contains news of meetings, books and magazines, details of new members and their bookplate interests, bookplate competitions, illustrations of members' bookplates and a 'wants, offers and queries' section, free to members. An important feature is the detailing of lots in our popular bookplate auctions. These have rightly taken over from the old Exchange Club, for every member has an equal chance of acquiring ex-libris, and often half the lots go to postal bidders. Only members may bid in the auctions, of course. Every five or six years we update and republish our list of members, and, since it also details particular bookplate interests, it is an invaluable means of putting collectors in touch with each other.

We have issued a volume free to members annually since 1983, as indicated above, and the following have been published under the Society's aegis: The Bookplate Designs of Rex Whistler (with Private Libraries Association, with which we were affiliated 1972-82), 1973; Early Printed Book Labels (with PLA), 1976; Bookplates signed 'W.P.B.' (1896-1928) (with James Wilson), 1978; Bookplates in Britain (with the Victoria and Albert Museum, HMSO), 1979; J.A.C. Harrison Artist and Engraver (with Forlaget Exlibristen), 1983; London Bookplates (with the same), 1985; The Bookplate Designs of Franz von Bayros (with James Wilson), 1986; The Golden Era of American Bookplate Design: 1890-1940 (with Forlaget Exlibristen), 1986; The Ex-libris of Philip Hagreen (with the same), 1987; The Bookplate Designs of Austin Osman Spare (with the Keridwen Press), 1988; Some Yorkshire Bookplates (with Apsley House Press), 1991; Bookplate Collecting in Britain (with the same), 1992; Bookpile Bookplates (with the same), 1992; Bookplates by Lord Badeley (with the same), 1993; Bookplates from Mussett's Heraldic Office (with the same), 1994. Modern British Bookplates, published by Silent Books under their imprint only, was the 1990 free book. The members' volume for 1995 was Indian and Related Bookplates. More recent annual books are detailed on the publications page.

Another aspect of the Society's life has been the organising of major public exhibitions. Our venues have included the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford), the National Book League, the University of London, University College (London), the London Guildhall Library, the Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge), the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Orleans House (Twickenham), the Mitchell Library (Glasgow), and Oxford Public Library. In 1995 we were involved in a major international ex-libris competition organised by Benoît Junod, in Belgrade. Two exhibitions relating to it were brought to Britain in the following year, one of them a comprehensive historical display of international ex-libris, the other the fruits of the competition. Our most recent exhibition, displaying bookplates of heralds and other armorial ex-libris, took place in 2003 at the College of Arms, London.

If non-members come to hear of our meetings, they are most welcome to attend any but the auctions. Meetings have in the past included visits to bookplate collections, both institutional and private, we have been given slide shows of ex-libris in particular styles of from particular parts of the country, we have seen practical demonstrations by artists and printers of how they produce bookplates, and we have held many gatherings at which members have brought material to display. On most occasions there are some bookplates for sale and exchange.

Our meetings are generally held at 2.3Opm on a Saturday at The Swedenborg Society, 20 Bloomsbury Way, London WC1A 2TH (near the British Museum and Holborn tube station). The Bookplate Society is informal and friendly. Naturally, we welcome members, and our annual subscription of £30 (UK), unchanged since 1995 is extraordinarily good value as it provides a book (in the past this was annual but from 2007-8 it has been issued every two years), two Journals, two Newsletters, and the opportunity to participate in our meetings and auctions. You also have access to fellow members who may share your particular interests and be able to make exchanges with you or provide information. This is not limited to members, for anyone who has a bookplate query is welcome to get in touch with the Society and all letters will be answered.

One person, the late Brian North Lee FSA, was pre-eminent as both driving force behind the Society and prolific author of bookplate books and articles. His output was remarkable, bringing order and interest to a field that was insufficiently documented. End-2002, at the close of his long term as editor of the Journal, the Society presented to him a silver salver engraved with his recently granted coat of arms, as an award in appreciation of his outstanding contribution to exlibris literature. We shall continue to honour his achievements.

LINK to a history of FISAE:   The International Federation of Societies of Exlibris Amateurs

Article by José Vicente de Bragança:   Ex Libris - Trends in the New Millenium
Apologies - no link at present; being checked by Webmaster 3/3/2010

© The Bookplate Society 2005-10