Jun 20, 2017

The Beefcake and Homoerotic Art of Ex Libris Bookplates

Back when books were always hardback and frightfully expensive, when a hundred books was a vast library and a thousand out of reach for all but the very rich, you would protect your books from being "accidentally" picked up by visitors or borrowed and never returned by affixing a bookplate with your name on the inside front cover.

"Ex libris" (from the library of) bookplates were first used during the Renaissance, and became very popular during the 18th and 19th centuries.  By the turn of the 20th century, artists such as Robert Anning Bell and Charles Ricketts made practically their whole careers out of designing intricate bookplates for their customers.

Today bookplates are little used, but bookplate collectors have their own subculture, with clubs, magazines, and conferences.

Homoerotic and beefcake-heavy bookplates are especially prized.

1. Wilhelm Mertens, a German herpetologist, professor at the University of Frankfurt and author of 13 books, promises that he's "immer an deck" (always alert), like the semi-nude muscleman looking at the stars.

2. Sigmund Freud's ex libris shows Oedipus being questioned by the Sphinx.  The style is very art deco, reminiscent of Aubrey Beardsley.

3. It's hard to see the naked man amid all the trees in this ex libris of Vivian Forbes, the gay poet and artist who committed suicide a few days after his lover's funeral in 1937.

4. A rather minimalist David slaying Goliath, but unusual for its coloration.   I don't know who this was for, maybe painter Franca Moggioli, who died in Turin in 2015 at the age of 94.

5. I feel like I should be saluting Big Brother in this austere fascist bookplate. Born in 1906, George Gates Raddin, Jr. was a painter and novelist from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

More after the break.

6. Jorgen E. Tews is known primarily for the bookplates he commissioned for his library.  A lot of them are erotic.

7. A nude boy climbs on books to reach for the stars (or a tree branch) in this bookplate from Dr. Ludwig Huberti (born 1866), the author of several books on jurisprudence, including The Influence of the Peace of God on the Rights of the Community.

8. The Bible and Shakespeare bookend the ex libris of Charles P. C. Mains-Jackson.  I don't know who that is.

9.  A very naturalistic Pan, his panpipes covering his penis, highlights the ex libris of August Stoehr (1843-1890), a German physician and politician.

10.  Ancient Greeks bearing gifts.

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