Italic Booklabels

By Philip Beddingham
Date Added: 17/07/2009


Bookplates may be divided into various categories, the most prominent being Armorials, Pictorials, and Labels. The first group is by far the largest. For many collectors, the Pictorials are the most interesting; for they alone are able to portray the personality of the owner in the design and subject matter used. The Armorial may only symbolise the interests, profession or trade of an ancestor and bear no relation to the character of the present-day owner. Labels are the perfect compromise. They can, with a little decoration, present a picture of their owner; on the other hand, of course, they can be entirely functional in merely proclaiming the owner-ship of a book. The type-printed variety first appeared in 1610 and is still the most widely-used. Engraved labels are numerous from the mid-17th century onwards, ranging from simple name pieces to elaborate exercises of the engraver's art.

Since the early thirties we have been fortunate in this country in our school of wood engravers. Although most of their work must be for book design and illustration, some artists do from time to time produce minor works of art in the form of book plates. The chief exponent of the wood-engraved label is Mr. Reynolds Stone, C.B.E., R.D.I. A mere glance at anyone of his labels will show why he alone must be considered the English master of the incised letter on wood: The beautifully-proportioned Romans of his labels for institutional libraries such as Liverpool

University, the British Council, and the Advertising Association, are a model for the student of letter formation and design, while the decorative flourishes of his italic style have a perfection which must cause many a student of penmanship to sigh in despair. The works of Reynolds Stone have a unity about them which cannot in any way be considered monotonous. Although two labels appear to be designed with an identical cursive style, closer inspection will reveal an individual approach to each letter and word formation.

For a more comprehensive study, reference should be made to Mfanwy Piper's book Reynolds Stone, published in 1951 by Art & Technics.

The only other artist engraving booklabels in any quantity is Diana Bloomfield. Her works cover a wide range of styles and varieties. Much of it is influenced by Reynolds Stone, and she has often been paid the compliment of having her work mistaken for his.

Some readers may be wondering why I do not mention written italic booklabels. Most people prefer to use either a typeset printed label or an engraved one. Both of these are, in effect, original prints, whereas a label first written with the pen must go through a process of reproduction before it can be produced in numbers sufficient for it to be used as a booklabel. It thereby loses quality and crispness. Naturally, a good result could be obtained by an artist who was not only a fine calligrapher but a skilled blockmaker and printer. Such a combination of talent is, however, uncommon.