17 Cool Old English Bookplates

In 1893, Egerton Castle published the second edition of his book English Book Plates, Ancient and Modern, which studied the history of the design of bookplates, or ex libris, the decorative plates placed in books—typically on the inside of the front cover—to indicate who the book belongs to. “Specimens occur in books printed as early as 1516, but in England, France, and Germany they became very popular in the last century,” Castle writes, noting that the trend was “likely to continue.” Many names you might recognize had plates in their books, and some were created by well-known artists of the day. Here are a few of the most beautiful.


This bookplate, “a model of early 16th-century book ownership device,” was designed for Doctor Hector Pomer, the last prior (a monk who is the head of a religious order) of St. Lawrence in Nuremberg, by the German artist Albrecht Dürer in 1521. In addition to his paintings, engravings, and woodcuts, Dürer also created natural history drawings for Conrad Gessner’s five-volume Historiae Animalium (you can see his version of a rhinoceros here).


Bacon gifted this “very handsome device” to the University of Cambridge in 1574. In addition to being the father of philosopher and scientist Francis, Bacon was, Castle writes, “an attorney of the Court of Wards and a Cambridge man [who] was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in the first year of her reign, and made Lord Keeper. He died in 1579.” It’s likely that this plate was also used to create Bacon’s personal bookplates, and that the color, date, and inscription were added for the gift plate.


This armorial bookplate, circa 1680, belonged to Samuel Pepys, a businessman, “right hand of the Navy,” and member of Parliament who might have coined the term. “As far as we know at present, the earliest approach to the word book-plate is discoverable in the ‘Diary of Mr. Samuel Pepys,’” Castle writes. On July 21, 1668, Pepys wrote in his famous diary that he “Went to my plate maker's and there spent an hour about contriving my little plates for my books of the King's four yards."


John Henslow was Chief Surveyor of the British Navy who, in 1798, designed the 80-gun HMS Foudroyant. “This book device was composed, by the owner himself, probably between the years 1780 and 1790,” Castle writes. “[H]e was knighted in 1794. The plate, Castle notes, is emblematic of Henslow's profession: 

On the dexter side of the shield is seen a three-decker [ship] on stocks, ready for launching, with Jack (before the Union) on foremast, Standard (quartering France) on main, Admiralty flag on mizzen and White Ensign on stern staff. On the sinister side are shown sails, masts, tackle and other naval emblems, among which a sail, used as a scroll to display the owner's name.


According to Castle, this bookplate was probably not designed for James Cook, explorer and circumnavigator of the globe, but was likely made for his son, who was also named James Cook. “This ex libris is most interesting on many accounts although it seems never to have been used,” Castle writes, continuing:

The history of this plate itself is obscure. Captain Cook was killed at Hawaii, February 14th, 1779. On September 3rd, 1785, a coat of arms was granted to the family of which the following is a blazoning, very typical of the degraded heraldry which the College tolerated at that period. … The crest motto is Circa orbem” and the motto below the shield on the original is Nil intentatem reliquit.” ... No Captain Cook,” however, was living at the time of the grant, and consequently the plate could never have been used by the Cook of navigation fame. But his eldest son, James, a young naval officer of high promise, was appointed in the autumn of 1793 to the command of the Spitfire” sloop of war. 

Sadly, the young commander never got to use the wonderful book plate. According to Castle, “on January, 1794, his body was discovered on the beach of the Isle of Wight, under circumstances which pointed strongly to the suspicion of murder.”


Henrietta Frances, Countess of Bessborough, adapted this visiting card into a book plate. Says Castle, “The design is to be thus interpreted: A Roman interior (according to the classic lights of the last century); Venus seated and holding a dove in one hand, the emblem of love, and in the other a flambant heart. It was designed by [Giovanni] Cipriani, engraved by Francesco Bartolozzi, and ‘published’ by the latter in 1796.”


“As a rule, the only interest in ex libris of the [purely-armorial lines] depends on the personality of their owners,” Castle writes. “The coat of arms appertaining to our late Laureate, for instance, is certainly not in itself a thing of beauty … a mere crest resting on a simple torce, but with a well-known name under it, assumes, at once, a startling importance.”


This striking bookplate had Dickens’s name underneath the lion.


This is Queen Victoria’s bookplate for the library at Windsor Castle; it was designed by someone named J. West and engraved by Mary Byfield, who, for more than 40 years, made woodcuts for books published by Chiswick Press.


“The author of London Lyrics, Mr. Frederick Locker-Lampson, has had a variety of book-plates drawn by well-known hands at different times for himself and his family,” Castle writes. Among them was this one, created by Kate Greenaway, a children’s book author and illustrator.


Artist, illustrator, and printer Charles Ricketts created this ex libris for Joseph Gleeson White, who wrote about art. As Ricketts explains to Castle,

The tree of Creation (Igdrasil) springs from a swirl of water and flame which breaks into little gems; the flame, continuing, flows through the trunk of the tree, which branches on each side into composite boughs suggesting the different plant kingdoms. This central flame envelopes the figure of man, placed in the midst of the tree in the act of awakening. The fruit on the eastern end of each bough represent in embryo the fish and water fowl, the reptile and creeping insects, the larger animals, and finally the creatures with wings. The rainbow shooting through the centre composition signifies the atmosphere; the two figures under one cloak in the lower part of the design represent night and day, i.e., the planets.

What could that possibly have to do with a bookplate? Well, explains White, “The tree, whether under this particular shape of Igdrasil in Scandinavian mythology, or under that of the Tree of Knowledge in the Mosaic tradition, has always been a favourite symbol for Literature. It is therefore a felicitous choice as an emblem of knowledge, eternal, yet needing daily nourishment, and ALWAYS GROWING. In fact, the various interpretations of this mystical tree are as all-embracing as literature itself.”


This English artist and book illustrator (one of his early illustrations depicts the subject of Tennyson’s poem “The Lady of Shalott”) made his own bookplate. “I assume,” Castle writes, “that the two-handled wine jug stands for an initial W before the Crane. But it is also elaborately symbolic; and, with pen, pencil and palette, and the quatrain from the ‘Rubaiyat,’ descriptive of the owner's pursuits and literary tastes.”


The American muralist and illustrator E.A. Abbey created this bookplate for Edmund Gosse, a British poet, author, and critic. “It represents a very fine gentleman of about 1610, walking in broad sunlight in a garden, reading a little book of verses,” Gosse wrote in Gossip in a Library. On bookplates, Gosse said that:

The outward and visible mark of the citizenship of the book-lover is his book-plate. There are many good bibliophiles who abide in the trenches and never proclaim their loyalty by a book-plate. They are with us but not of us; they lack the courage of their opinions; they collect with timidity or carelessness; they have no heed for the morrow. Such a man is liable to great temptations. He is brought face to face with that enemy of his species the borrower, and dares not speak with him in the gate. If he had a book-plate he would say, ‘Oh ! certainly I will lend you this volume, if it has not my book-plate in it; of course one makes it a rule never to lend a book that has!' He would say this, and feign to look inside the volume, knowing right well that this safeguard against the borrower is there already. To have a book-plate gives a collector great serenity and self-confidence.


This feels like an appropriate book-plate for the stage actor who may have been the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. “I think, Irving told Castle, “that [the bookplate] was designed by Bernard Partridge, though there is nothing of that bird in the composition. The occult meaning, so far as I know, there is none.

15. J.M. GRAY

J.M. Gray, curator of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, chose to feature the Tree of Wisdom in his bookplate. “Peering between the branches is seen the tempting combination of serpent body and female head,” Castle writes. “Seated at a table is also a monk … who is firmly resolved to keep his time well in hand and make good use thereof.”


The Reverend W.J. Loftie created this bookplate for adventure novel author H. Rider Haggard. “It is meant to signify ‘H. Rider Haggard, the son of Ella, Lady of the House, makes an oblation to Thoth, the lord of writing, who dwells in the Moon,’” Castle writes. “It was, of course, intended to be jocular; but no doubt the device, composed by a recognized expert in such matters, will remain a most interesting token in connection with the author of She and of Cleopatra.”


Lady Mayo herself drew this ex libris, which was engraved by Curwen of Dublin. The Latin inscription means “Salvation comes from the cross.” Included for the cute little kitty on top.

Live Smarter
Nervous About Asking for a Job Referral? LinkedIn Can Now Do It for You

For most people, asking for a job referral can be daunting. What if the person being approached shoots you down? What if you ask the "wrong" way? LinkedIn, which has been aggressively establishing itself as a catch-all hub for employment opportunities, has a solution, as Mashable reports.

The company recently launched "Ask for a Referral," an option that will appear to those browsing job listings. When you click on a job listed by a business that also employs one of your LinkedIn first-degree connections, you'll have the opportunity to solicit a referral from that individual.

The default message that LinkedIn creates is somewhat generic, but it hits the main topics—namely, prompting you to explain how you and your connection know one another and why you'd be a good fit for the position. If you're the one being asked for a referral, the site will direct you to the job posting and offer three prompts for a response, ranging from "Sure…" to "Sorry…".

LinkedIn says the referral option may not be available for all posts or all users, as the feature is still being rolled out. If you do see the option, it will likely pay to take advantage of it: LinkedIn reports that recruiters who receive both a referral and a job application from a prospective hire are four times more likely to contact that individual.

[h/t Mashable]

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Essential Science
What Is a Scientific Theory?
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Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

In casual conversation, people often use the word theory to mean "hunch" or "guess": If you see the same man riding the northbound bus every morning, you might theorize that he has a job in the north end of the city; if you forget to put the bread in the breadbox and discover chunks have been taken out of it the next morning, you might theorize that you have mice in your kitchen.

In science, a theory is a stronger assertion. Typically, it's a claim about the relationship between various facts; a way of providing a concise explanation for what's been observed. The American Museum of Natural History puts it this way: "A theory is a well-substantiated explanation of an aspect of the natural world that can incorporate laws, hypotheses and facts."

For example, Newton's theory of gravity—also known as his law of universal gravitation—says that every object, anywhere in the universe, responds to the force of gravity in the same way. Observational data from the Moon's motion around the Earth, the motion of Jupiter's moons around Jupiter, and the downward fall of a dropped hammer are all consistent with Newton's theory. So Newton's theory provides a concise way of summarizing what we know about the motion of these objects—indeed, of any object responding to the force of gravity.

A scientific theory "organizes experience," James Robert Brown, a philosopher of science at the University of Toronto, tells Mental Floss. "It puts it into some kind of systematic form."


A theory's ability to account for already known facts lays a solid foundation for its acceptance. Let's take a closer look at Newton's theory of gravity as an example.

In the late 17th century, the planets were known to move in elliptical orbits around the Sun, but no one had a clear idea of why the orbits had to be shaped like ellipses. Similarly, the movement of falling objects had been well understood since the work of Galileo a half-century earlier; the Italian scientist had worked out a mathematical formula that describes how the speed of a falling object increases over time. Newton's great breakthrough was to tie all of this together. According to legend, his moment of insight came as he gazed upon a falling apple in his native Lincolnshire.

In Newton's theory, every object is attracted to every other object with a force that’s proportional to the masses of the objects, but inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. This is known as an “inverse square” law. For example, if the distance between the Sun and the Earth were doubled, the gravitational attraction between the Earth and the Sun would be cut to one-quarter of its current strength. Newton, using his theories and a bit of calculus, was able to show that the gravitational force between the Sun and the planets as they move through space meant that orbits had to be elliptical.

Newton's theory is powerful because it explains so much: the falling apple, the motion of the Moon around the Earth, and the motion of all of the planets—and even comets—around the Sun. All of it now made sense.


A theory gains even more support if it predicts new, observable phenomena. The English astronomer Edmond Halley used Newton's theory of gravity to calculate the orbit of the comet that now bears his name. Taking into account the gravitational pull of the Sun, Jupiter, and Saturn, in 1705, he predicted that the comet, which had last been seen in 1682, would return in 1758. Sure enough, it did, reappearing in December of that year. (Unfortunately, Halley didn't live to see it; he died in 1742.) The predicted return of Halley's Comet, Brown says, was "a spectacular triumph" of Newton's theory.

In the early 20th century, Newton's theory of gravity would itself be superseded—as physicists put it—by Einstein's, known as general relativity. (Where Newton envisioned gravity as a force acting between objects, Einstein described gravity as the result of a curving or warping of space itself.) General relativity was able to explain certain phenomena that Newton's theory couldn't account for, such as an anomaly in the orbit of Mercury, which slowly rotates—the technical term for this is "precession"—so that while each loop the planet takes around the Sun is an ellipse, over the years Mercury traces out a spiral path similar to one you may have made as a kid on a Spirograph.

Significantly, Einstein’s theory also made predictions that differed from Newton's. One was the idea that gravity can bend starlight, which was spectacularly confirmed during a solar eclipse in 1919 (and made Einstein an overnight celebrity). Nearly 100 years later, in 2016, the discovery of gravitational waves confirmed yet another prediction. In the century between, at least eight predictions of Einstein's theory have been confirmed.


And yet physicists believe that Einstein's theory will one day give way to a new, more complete theory. It already seems to conflict with quantum mechanics, the theory that provides our best description of the subatomic world. The way the two theories describe the world is very different. General relativity describes the universe as containing particles with definite positions and speeds, moving about in response to gravitational fields that permeate all of space. Quantum mechanics, in contrast, yields only the probability that each particle will be found in some particular location at some particular time.

What would a "unified theory of physics"—one that combines quantum mechanics and Einstein's theory of gravity—look like? Presumably it would combine the explanatory power of both theories, allowing scientists to make sense of both the very large and the very small in the universe.


Let's shift from physics to biology for a moment. It is precisely because of its vast explanatory power that biologists hold Darwin's theory of evolution—which allows scientists to make sense of data from genetics, physiology, biochemistry, paleontology, biogeography, and many other fields—in such high esteem. As the biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky put it in an influential essay in 1973, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution."

Interestingly, the word evolution can be used to refer to both a theory and a fact—something Darwin himself realized. "Darwin, when he was talking about evolution, distinguished between the fact of evolution and the theory of evolution," Brown says. "The fact of evolution was that species had, in fact, evolved [i.e. changed over time]—and he had all sorts of evidence for this. The theory of evolution is an attempt to explain this evolutionary process." The explanation that Darwin eventually came up with was the idea of natural selection—roughly, the idea that an organism's offspring will vary, and that those offspring with more favorable traits will be more likely to survive, thus passing those traits on to the next generation.


Many theories are rock-solid: Scientists have just as much confidence in the theories of relativity, quantum mechanics, evolution, plate tectonics, and thermodynamics as they do in the statement that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

Other theories, closer to the cutting-edge of current research, are more tentative, like string theory (the idea that everything in the universe is made up of tiny, vibrating strings or loops of pure energy) or the various multiverse theories (the idea that our entire universe is just one of many). String theory and multiverse theories remain controversial because of the lack of direct experimental evidence for them, and some critics claim that multiverse theories aren't even testable in principle. They argue that there's no conceivable experiment that one could perform that would reveal the existence of these other universes.

Sometimes more than one theory is put forward to explain observations of natural phenomena; these theories might be said to "compete," with scientists judging which one provides the best explanation for the observations.

"That's how it should ideally work," Brown says. "You put forward your theory, I put forward my theory; we accumulate a lot of evidence. Eventually, one of our theories might prove to obviously be better than the other, over some period of time. At that point, the losing theory sort of falls away. And the winning theory will probably fight battles in the future."


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