Markings go back as far as the first handwritten records because the reader
had to know what was being written about. Clay tablets had tags attached to them, and this carried over to the early parchment manuscripts. A manuscript in a large library would be marked on the end, either with a tag or spot of color, each color representing a certain subject.
Most discerning of lay book collectors shun all books that have markings other than notes by the author or a famous contemporary. This is very admirable and certainly to be hoped for, but today’s security-conscious society you also have to think about theft. Not only the prevention of individual items, but how to identify your items after they’ve been taken. Which means, mark the book! Jeanne Bennett mentions in her book “Hidden Treasures, the History and Technique of Fore-Edge Painting” a legend about Charles II, King of England, saying that he had his coat of arms painted on the fore-edges.
Most collectors are content with a bookplate that is pasted inside one of the covers. Newcomers and some accumulators merely write their name inside. Another class will use a rubberstamp or embossing stamp on a flyleaf, in varying sizes and colors.
What is best?
The best guidelines are probably:
(1) keep the identification as small as possible, like a small pencil dot or a pinhole
(2) put it in an out of the way place (on the back flyleaf or inside the back cover at the bottom), or in the case of the dot or hole, over or under a letter in a certain position in each book (next to last vowel of last paragraph on the next to last page?)
(3) keep in your files as complete a description of the book and its mark as you can make.
If you have a cataloging system, then provide space for this information. Ideally, this information would include at least the following: a photo of the binding (front, spine, and back); a photo or xerocopy of the titlepages or any other pages with identifiable marks and bibliographic oddities (like broken letters, a tipped-in errata sheet, etc.)
Bookplates are labels specially designed and printed to show who owns them. Throughout history plates have been made with all kinds of art on them, in all sizes, and depicting a myriad subjects and scenes. The first bookplate is supposedly dated from 1450, is a whopping 7-1/2” x 5-1/2” in size, and belonged to Johannes (Hans) Knabensberg in Germany.
Whether you purchase pre-made bookplate or design one of your own, follow these to guidelines:
Print your bookplate on an acid-free paper and keep it as small as your ego will allow. A small bookplate will make it easier to placing it in a small book, 4”x5” for example. Will not, in older books cover the advertising or drawings on the endpapers. Advertising can be important for various reasons when researching an author, publisher, or book. Besides it’s a crime to cover illustrated endpapers.
Fasten your bookplate with a benign paste. A benign paste like YES Paste, available from better art supply stores or wheat or rice starch paste. Do not use a self-adhesive label, as they will either dry out and fall out. Or will leave a sticky residue behind when they fall off.
Don’t do it if you want to remain friends with other collectors. Leave the embossing to the notary public people.