Book Lending and Marks of Ownership

alex atkins bookshelf booksOne of the most famous quotations about lending books is by French author and man of letters, Anatole France (born François-Anatole Thibault, 1844-1924), who advised, “Never lend books, for no one ever returns them; the only books I have in my library are books that other folks have lent me.” [from La Vie litteraire (The Literary Life), 1888]. So how did France know that these weren’t his books? They must have had obvious marks of ownerships.

So how do book owners mark their books? The most common way of marking a book is by writing or signing one’s name in the book, typically the paste down end paper or the free end paper. Soon after Gutenberg introduced printed books in the mid 15th century, book owners began using bookplates, also known as “Ex Libris” (from the Latin, “From the Library”) labels. Some of these were very ornate with heraldic elements and fancy borders. Another common method is a blind emboss stamp indicating the owner’s name in the middle of a circular pattern. Another variation is the ink stamp, often used by libraries. Perhaps one of the crudest methods, often used by high school and college students, is to write one’s last name in large block letters on all three sides of the text block. It makes quite a bold statement: “this book is mine — so don’t even think of stealing it!”

There are purists who believe that a book should never be marked or written in; but there are many who believe that an elegant bookplate denotes that the owner is an important part of a book’s history, or using bibliophile lingo, it’s provenance.

How do you mark your books?

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