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There are many collectors of bookplates who search for interesting examples to add to their collections. Collecting bookplates began in the late 19th century, when book collectors exchanged their private bookplates with each other. A reference to the history of bookplates was published in 1880 by Lord de Talbey (poet John Byrne Leicester Warren), who had an extensive collection of armorial bookplates.

It became clear even in the 19th century that the value of some historical bookplates outweighed the value of the books into which they had been pasted.

If a book has value on its own or was once part of a famous person's library, the bookplate should stay attached to the book. If, however, you encounter a beautiful bookplate in a damaged or worthless book, it may be worthwhile to salvage it. Attractive and skilfully designed bookplates will sometimes be found in books which, in and of themselves, have little market value.

The following is a step-by-step guide to removing a bookplate from a damaged book.

As are most bookplates, this antiquarian example was glued to the front pastedown where it had been safely nestled for over 120 years.

The first step in salvaging the bookplate is to remove the front cover board. Go ahead - rip it off!

After filling a sink with warm water, allow the cover board to soak thoroughly to loosen the bookplate's glue. The dye in the binding may bleed and leave a stain in the water. As soon as the cover board has softened (about 15 minutes or so), cut the cover board away with scissors leaving an approximate one inch margin around the bookplate. It will be very easy to do this once the board is thoroughly saturated. It's better for the bookplate to soak in clean water rather than absorb the accumulated grime of 120 years and the dye of old leather.

Once the bookplate has thoroughly soaked in the water, the glue will begin to loosen. Depending on the age of the book and the strength of the glue, this process may take hours. This particular bookplate was only beginning to loosen at the edges after more than five hours in the water. If necessary, you may use a fingernail to gently help lift the edges of the bookplate, but be careful not to tear the bookplate. The goal is to get as much air as possible between the bookplate and the board so the glue at the center of the bookplate can be exposed to the water. Once the bookplate is thoroughly soaked, you can slide and lift it gently away from the board.

After the bookplate has detached from the book, pat it dry with white napkins or paper towel sheets before pressing it between a stack of books. To preclude any residual glue on the bookplate from adhering to the book stack, it is preferable to keep the damp bookplate between two white paper towel sheets while it is being pressed. That way, if the bookplate becomes stuck to the paper towels, you can simply re-soak it. Allow 12-24 hours for the bookplate to dry and flatten.

This turkey is free at last!

What prices do individual bookplates bring on eBay? In the month of July 2007, the following prices were realized:

Circa 1904 Elizabeth Corbet Yeats engraved bookplate - $169.50

1898 Emil Orluk designed bookplate of woman with skull - $162.50

1897 Emil Orluk designed bookplate of owl with books - $141.34

Houdini portrait bookplate - $122.50

1900 Francis Marion Crawford bookplate by Henry Brokman - $122.50

1928 Rockwell Kent bookplate - $78.99

These diminutive slips of decorative paper have surpassed their intended purpose as utilitarian objects and can now be more valuable than the book itself. So the next time you're tempted to bypass a ratty-looking volume, take a peek inside to see if a bookplate is there!

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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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