Vintage Library Book Plates (with a short tangent on the Dewey Decimal System)

This post was inspired by vintage library book plates, but it's actually going to start with the Dewey Decimal System. Bear with me.

2012 was a busy year for me. In addition to launching a freelance career and expanding my letterpress studio, I got married and bought a house. I decided to start the new year off with the perfect escape from the hectic work-a-day – the stacks at the Minneapolis Central Library.

I always head to the same section - classification 655 in the Dewey Decimal System. In the Minneapolis stacks, this has books from the 19th century (and early 20th) on printing techniques, incredibly ornate catalogues from letterpress machine makers, and truly beautiful typography treatises. 

When prepping for this post, I looked up the classification for 655 to see what it is officially named, only to see this in the wikipedia entry:


655 is not assigned or no longer used! I had to go back and see if our libraries have made the inevitable decision to de-classify printing from the Dewey Decimal System. And indeed, if you go back to Melvil Dewey's original classification list from 1891:

It used to merit its own classification, but no longer. This makes me feel a tiny bit sad.

Anyway, thanks for the library nerd-dom diversion. 

I often come away with inspiration from this tiny printmaking and typography section on the 4th floor. But what left me that day with the strongest impression? This bookplate:


It made me search out other great examples of these bookplates. For ephemera that served a largely utilitarian function (listing call numbers, stern instructions not to steal the book, etc), they are beautifully rendered.

Elana SchwartzmanComment