Whilst not all the famous names – “authors, poets, statesmen, theologians, orators, financiers and educationalists” – listed in Clifford N. Carver’s 1911 book celebrating the ‘Book-Plates of Well-Known Americans’ may be household names today, the text is still a fascinating source of interest to the modern ex libris collector and an excellent illustrated catalogue of bookplate design.
Time-honored custom seems to demand that elementary expositions of the nature and use of bookplates should open with an explanation of the early use of heraldry on bookplates. In olden times, the ability to read and write not being an accomplishment of the multitude, the bookowner would naturally choose an armorial achievement with which to mark his books because of the meaning it would convey to anyone who might find the book, whether he could read or not.
One of the most interesting examples of a portrait bookplate is that of Samuel Pepys, the famous Diarist. The plate, which was engraved by Robert White after one of the portraits by Sir Godfrey Kneller, seems to have been originally used as a frontispiece for Memoirs of the Navy which the owner privately printed in 1690.