Nasty bookplates

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thiefbookplate

Halt! Mein Buch! (Stop! My Book!) How is that for a subtle bookplate warning to potential thieves, a.k.a. your friends? See 1895 bookplate above for an illustration of the hand of God reaching from a cloud to pluck the purloined book from your greedy arms. Bookplates were a tremendous innovation as private libraries developed. After all, in the olden days, people had to write unpleasant little poems warning people from stealing their books, and there is a limit to most people’s literary innovation. For instance, note the flyleaf threat at right-below, dated 1829, featured on a special collections blog from the library of my alma mater, the University of Michigan, here.  (We’ve also written about bookplates before, here and here and here and here and here and here.)

flyleaf_rhymes_005Some flyleaf poems threatened judgment day, but this book-lover thought it might be more effective to threaten punishment in this world. How’s this for a passive-aggressive warning to your “honest” friend?

Steal not this Book my honest friend,
for fear the gallows will be your end
Be very careful of this Book
and very often often in it look
for in it we may only find
food aplenty for the mind.

hitlerbookplateEven aside from literary quality, you can see why bookplates quickly evolved as an improvement to poetic creativity. It is easier to see than to imagine. For example, while the flyleaf poem merely threatened the gallows, the book owner whose undated bookplate is featured below thought you would need to have a visual reminder of your potential fate. However, the warning is oblique and mysterious: “Fert in omnia rutubam et tristitiam terribilis amor” or, in English, “In all things terrible love brings trouble and sadness.” A handy reminder for a book of love poems? Hardly the best consolation for the recently divorced … or the newly married, for that matter. Or is it the love of books that brings one to such a terrible end? Can you imagine the book owner gazing fondly at this image of a hanged man? What possesses people?

Or how about this Halloween special below, for the kiddies? Tuck them into bed with the book, see what happens when you tell them to go to sleep. Actually, artist Bernie Wrightson designed it for his graphic novel adaptation of Creepshow. As for Adolf Hitler‘s bookplate from the Library of Congress, it speaks for itself.

Read more here and here and here. (Be warned, however, not all the bookplates are nasty; most are rather lovely). And a hat tip to the ubiquitous Dave Lull, friend to bloggers everywhere, for the inspiration.

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