Interview With Lew Jaffe The Bookplate Junkie

Lew Jaffe is the author of Confessions of a Bookplate Junkie and of course an avid collector of bookplates.

Bookplates are not widely collected, which to me is surprising since they seem to be the perfect collectors item. Each contains potentially not one but 2 unique stories - the artist’s and the owner’s. Often, not much is known about either, which makes each bookplate a mystery to be solved. All that before you’ve actually looked at the art and the design.

I was thrilled when Lew agreed to answer some questions for me, and maybe shed some light on the art of bookplates and bookplate collecting:

A.C: Were you always a collector or was there something about bookplates that got your interest and turned you into one?

L.J: As far back as I can remember I collected things but bookplates seemed to fill a need I did not know existed. To me it is like archeology, finding buried treasures in unexpected places. I really do not know why I collect bookplates except to say it makes me feel good to do so.

A.C: Well, I was completely blown away from what I saw when researching for this interview. You could spend hours looking at them and wondering about each specific one, especially as they leave the realm of the formal coat of arms designs. Do you have a favorite? If you do could you expand on that?

L.J: Because I have many bookplates from many time periods, in many styles it is difficult to point to one all time favorite. Here are two that come to mind.

Harold Lindley.jpg

Harold Lindley was a child who in the 1920’s or 30’s who designed a bookplate . I know nothing further about him.

dugdale stewart walker.jpg

Dugdale Stewart Walker lived in Richmond Virginia in the 1920’s and illustrated children’s books. He also designed a few bookplates. He is one of my favorite artists.

A.C: This may be a bit of a repeat of the first question, but I am curious since the bookplate collectors community is quite small (in the U.S.A only about 200 collectors). How did you find yourself collecting bookplates of all things?

L.J: Another good question for which I do not have a precise answer. The fact that we bookplate collectors are a small select group is to me part of its appeal.

A.C: Are the printing plates that were used to print the bookplates collector items as well?

L.J: Generally speaking the answer is no but there are always exceptions. Copper plates by Paul Revere for example would be extremely valuable. Art work for bookplates by Rockwell Kent would also be valuable.

A.C: Do you always separate the bookplate from the book? What if the both the book and the bookplate are of significant value or collectability?

L.J: Very good question - In general my preference is to remove bookplates; however, there are many exceptions. If the bookplate is from the library of a famous person and the book relates to his or her achievements (association copy) it deserves special consideration.

A.C: Once you remove them, how do you preserve them? I am sure you can’t frame all of them... Are they in special albums?

L.J: Each collector has a preferred method for storing and displaying bookplates. I use loose leaf albums in which I have inserted clear plastic four pocketed loose leaf sheets.

A.C: Is there a preferred place to place the bookplate in the book? Right on the inside of the cover, or on the first page?

L.J: The inside front cover is the place most frequently used.

A.C: Reading your blog, I have noticed that you enjoy the chase after the information; Who was the owner? Who was the artist? And so on. How do you collect? I am sure some people will collect a certain artist or period or theme - I am interested to learn about how you evolved as a bookplate collector over the years, since I noticed that your collection, or at least what you have on the blog is pretty eclectic. (I am finding myself drawn to the pun plates and the minimalist ones that you have.)

L.J: Your question is provocative and I am afraid I do not have a very precise answer for you. Early on, I made a decision to focus on American and English plates. Within that frame work I spend more time (and money) on 18th century American bookplates. Now having said that I also spend a good amount of effort collecting bookplates from the libraries of famous people from any country.

A.C: Which bookplate of a famous person where you absolutely thrilled to find? Was there any particular one that you looked for extensively, or one you stumbled on by mistake?

L.J: I am always pleased to get bookplates from the libraries of famous people. The holy grail right now is getting one used by Bill Clinton.

A.C: Is there a bookplate community of sorts? Do you do a lot of swapping or purchasing overseas? How can one learn more about bookplates and collecting them, as far as value, interest, categories and so on?

L.J: Wow! That is a lot to address in one answer but I will try. Most countries have a bookplate society. I belong to one here in the states and one in England. I enjoy exchanging bookplates with collectors from all over the world. I make purchases (mostly through Ebay) from all over the world.
Learning more about the hobby involves reading books, blogs etc., talking to other collectors and joining a bookplate society. I am always willing to answer question from new collectors.

A.C: EBay is a great source of everything, including forgeries and scams. Are there any tips you could give to beginning collectors as far as how to avoid falling prey to such scams specific for your field?

L.J: Part of the learning process is falling prey to the sleazy sellers on EBay. If something sounds too good to be true be very cautious.

A.C: I loved the Mrs. Lucas bookplate. Hysterical. Could you tell us a bit more about it, how you came about it, the artist the owner and so on?

English Teacher1.jpg


L.J: It appealed to me also but I did not purchase the plate because I do not collect European plates. I do not know anything about the artist or owner. It is remotely possible the dealer may still have a copy for sale.

A.C: Dr Ward Williams plate is fantastic - who was the artist for that, and do you know how they decided on the design? What kind of a Dr was he? A neurologist or gastroenterologist?

doctor61.jpg

L.J: There is a pencil notation on the back of the bookplate as follows: “Dr. Williams removed tumor from brain of Syracuse boy who drew the babies. Fred D. Schlachter designed outer part” I do not know what Dr.Williams specialty was but it was probably Neurosurgery or General Surgery.

A.C: Wow. What a story. I am sure the boy was absolutely thrilled and honored.

Picasso’s bookplate for Rockefeller is beautiful, and is one of the minimalistic plates that I like so much. Did he do any other bookplates?

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L.J: None that I know of.

A.C: Is there a contemporary bookplate designer that you like in particular, and do you have your own bookplate?

L.J: I have two bookplates which I use most frequently.

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The Dragonfly was designed by Daniel Mitsui

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The Meerkat is a wood engraving by Andy English


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So... what do you think? Please leave me a comment.

6 Comments:

  • Lew Jaffe: Thank you Linda,
    If any of your readers have questions about bookplate collecting I would encourage them to to contact me.
    Lew Jaffe
  • jade: How is value determined for bookplates, is it all a matter of demand or are there set prices to certain periods/styles/artists etc.?
    In some ways, bookplates reminds me of coats of arms for educated people. Are there frequently used symbols and what are their meanings?
  • Mike: @Lew - Amazing, I was never aware of such collectibles. If one decides to start collecting them, how would you recommend him to begin?
  • Cis van Heertum: Dear Lew Jaffe,
    While searching for a bookplate made for Benjamin Baskin (a man holding the sefirot), I came across your wonderful but tantalizing site - which I can’t open. However, you did write a post about this very bookplate and I was wondering whether you could perhaps send me the information on this specific bookplate? All help will be duly acknowledged, of course.
    Best wishes,
    Cis van Heertum
  • Lew Jaffe: Dear Cis van Heertum,
    I am sorry but I do not have any additional information about the bookplate.
    Cordially,
    Lew Jaffe
    <email>
  • N Edwards: Hi, I have a John Farleigh bookplate engraving on ebay ( ends today ) my id is niged10a please check it out ,I want it to go to a good home ,so if not for you please let the most suitable person know it’s available ,thanks,Nige. N Edwards

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