If you just like old books or visit libraries and leaf through their old books you will certainly see many of them. No they do not necessarily relate to the importance nor stature of the writer nor the thickness of the book nor to the book’s age.
They were used and still are by some public or private institutions that paste the label in books received as gifts or by the donors of the books before they donate them when they want their fond memories preserved in an otherwise anonymous book.
Sometimes we will find them used by authors in books by their favorite writers. The size of the bookplate does not relate necessarily to the importance of the book, the institution or the donor. In the 17th Century most bookplates had an image relating to heraldry, most common folk did not own books, if they could read at all, hence the word armorial bookplate. This practice of using armorial plates continued well into the 20th Century and not all owners were of noble descent either. You will see some here.
The bookplate is usually designed by an artist in any of the printing techniques such as a woodcut, lithography, engraving or etching and were usually commissioned by the book owner directly from the artist. In the late 19th and early 20th Century some printers carried standard ready made bookplates for sale in their inventory.
Part of the thrill of collecting these small treasures is finding out who the artist was or for whom the bookplate was designed. If you would like to find out more visit this fabulous official site of the American Society of Bookplate Collectors and Designers, you will get hooked, I promise!
My favorite ones are the ones that illustrate the vision of the owner expressed as a sailboat or a garden, obviously referring to the owners other private interests and showing us something of the character of this person.
These little labels are very useful in researching book provenance and can add extra value to any old book. Ignorant dealers removed them from books, a practice just about abandoned today, fortunately.
At times, one could trade them or if you were friendly with a librarian or printer you could get one unused, not any longer I think as there are many more collectors than one safely might assume. This great collecting area satisfies all collecting instincts. If you research the ownership of any bookplate you will become somewhat of a friend to the previous owner of that plate.