Armorial or heraldic bookplates were a favoured style for more than 350 years after they were first used around the late 15th Century. They depict a coat of arms, which is granted to a person or institution by heraldic authorities.
Some armorial plates feature a complete `heraldic achievement’ of crest, helm or coronet, shield, mantling, arms, supporters and motto while others carry only a crest. In the days when books were prized and expensive objects, those people entitled to `bear arms’ were often also those who could afford to form private libraries - the aristocracy, scholars, doctors, lawyers, clergy and wealthy merchants.
The decorative styles for armorial plates changed over the centuries, earning in Britain descriptions such as early armorial, Jacobean, Chippendale, spade-shield, wreath and ribbon and die-sinker. The techniques used to create them also changed over time and included woodcuts, copper and steel engravings, etchings, lithographs and photolithographs. Some were signed by the artists or engravers but many went unsigned, particularly the steel-engraved armorials of the 19th century which were created by printers and heraldic stationers for an increasingly broad market.
One of the oldest shown here is the early armorial for Sir Simon Harcourt (1661-1727) of Stanton Harcourt, Oxfordshire, England. A lawyer and politician, he was appointed Solicitor General in 1702 during the reign of Queen Anne. An early local example is the armorial crest that the Australian emigrant William Francis Robert Gordon (1848-1936) designed for himself and which marries Australian and New Zealand motifs.References