Thursday's Wall Street Journal had an interesting editorial about the bookplate. (You gotta subscribe to the WSJ Online so no linking.) Back in the Day, if you had a nice library of books, you had to have a nice book plate in the front of each book, marking it as yours. Back in the Dawn, when books were still rare, your bookplate might indicate ownership and warn off thieves. Later it just served as a mark of pride in ownership and also gently reminded borrowers that the book was merely on loan.
An off-the-rack bookplate, with your name written on, could serve, but if you were really important or really loved your books then you'd get something personalized. The American Society of Bookplate Designers and Collectors has some cool examples of personalized bookplates, including George Washington, Charles de Gaulle and Harpo Marx. Famous artists who also did bookplates include Aubrey Beardsley and Paul Revere. Contemporary artists such as Sergey Hrapov and Martin Baeyens have brought the bookplate into the 21st century.
Probably the most famous bookplate manufacturer in this country was Antioch Bookplate Co., which was founded in the 1920s by Ernest Morgan as an off-shoot of the Antioch College work-study program. Rockwell Kent made several of the company's most successful bookplates and Robert Whitmore created a design that I have come across several times in my years of old book buying: an Arts and Crafts style tree with a book perched in its branches.
I had no idea that the company survives today as Antioch Publishing and that they still sell book plates! Of course, many other places do, as well.
Including soon me, too! As soon as I can get to it (read: hopefully this week), I'm planning on doing a Fyrdraaca House book plate which will be available gratis, signed by moi, to anyone who would like to slap one onto the front of Flora Segunda. I've been meaning to do this for ages, and have already promised a few, but my recent time crunch has kept my wellmeaningness from translating into action. But now I'm spurred to get the deed done. I'll let you know when I do.