On August 24th at 17.30, at the Ferme du Manoir, there was a talk by...


Jean-François Chassaing,

President of AFCEL (French Association for the Knowledge of Ex-libris)


Find out about AFCEL... go to http://perso.wanadoo.fr/exlibris.afcel/

The text is given below. The images will be added in the coming days...




An ex-libris born in France ? Yes, but made to be pasted into a book!


Ex-libris in France – and more specifically French ex-libris – have lasted for several centuries already and continue to last as marks of ownership of books. If one considers the volume of publications on the subject over more than two centuries, one can only be flabbergasted to see the impressive number of often very documented and knowledgeable works not only dedicated to ex-libris in general, but recounting the history of Franco-French bookplates. It is not possible to assess the present state of ex-libris in France without talking about the numerous authors who tackled this immense and heavy task. I am thinking, in particular and without order of precedence, of Dr. Ch. Lafon for bookplates from the Périgord, of W. Poidebard, J. Baudrier and L. Galle for those of the Lyon region, the Forez, Beaujolais and Dombes, of Paul Denis du Péage for Flandres and Artois, of Marcel Moeder for Alsace, without forgetting Count Antoine de Mahuet and Edmond Des Roberts for Lorraine, Dr. L. Bouland on ancient and modern booklabels,  Henry André and Drs. Th. Vetter, E. Olivier et G. Vialet on medical and pharmaceutical bookplates, without omitting Henri Daragon’s volume on war ex-libris, and who in 1921-23 made published a comparative study of modern ex-libris in Europe. One must note that on May 31st, 1994 our friend Dr. Olivier Brin obtained his medical degree presenting a thesis on medical bookplates – the only such case that we know of. Our honorary president, Germaine Meyer-Noirel, has taken on the huge and challenging task of preparing a General Register of French bookplates from their origin until modern days (1496-1920) by alphabetical order of owners – and she has so far published fourteen volumes and several complements. She said to me recently that she feels it will take her another three years to finish the task. Mme Meyer has also published innumerable articles and monographies, of which a major one in 1974 on the ten earliest bookplates in France; her volume published by Picard in Paris in 1989 entitled L’Ex-Libris Histoire Art Techniques (The Bookplate, History, Art, techniques) was quickly out of print and I consider it the ultimate reference book on French ex-libris.


We can state categorically that, in France, the bookplate has been and will always be perceived, first and foremost, as a mark of ownership of books, and rarely if ever as a collectible print for amateurs of graphic arts or for foolhardy speculators hoping to resell them for an improbable and hazardous profit! I am not saying that there are no collectors in France, but they can be counted on the fingers of one or two hands at most, unless they are so discreet that we cannot identify them. Obviously, the great majority of bookplates created today in France are for bibliophiles (or for a few foreign collectors) or for simple folk who love and cherish their books sufficiently to bind them to themselves with this ‘alliance’ which is the bookplate in its very essence, whatever the technique used so long as they can be multiplied.


We strongly promote the creation, the need and desire to mark ones books with these pleasant little prints - and take pleasure in doing so. This is carried out in many ways: conferences and occasional talks in municipal libraries and media centres; in French cultural centres abroad; through thematic exhibitions at book fairs, in all paper-related and calligraphy-related events, etc.. Why not dream of the day when the polite way of saying hello might be “and how is your bookplate?”, rather like the Chinese who ask if one has eaten well? So, you will ask, what about collecting? Well, collect if you feel like it – but kill two birds with one stone: paste one print into a book for one that you give as an exchange!


But then if the ex-libris becomes only a collectible for amateurs of art prints and is no longer appreciated for its traditional use, what happens if it is only a sketch or made with a computer? How many exchange enthusiasts, mostly purists, will accept to give an etching or engraving for a computer print, be the latter created by a well-known artist or a simple amateur? What will the rules for exchange then be? Whereas if the same ex-libris, made with whatever technique, is conceived to be pasted into a book, then who cares how it was born – the key factor is that it must be in every way pleasing to its owner. I am convinced that each time a new technique appeared, at first considered quite revolutionary, there was no change in the finality of bookplates – at least in France – and in the same way as lithography did not supplant woodcuts or engravings, the computer will in no way oust screen processes or traditional printmaking.


In fact, why worry? Let us be patient and work to spread, like a new fashion, the use of bookplates the way they were conceived and the way they will continue to be made. At a time where all seems ephemeral, running at inconsistent speeds, let us be reasonable and stay in the tracks of our predecessors, albeit remaining sensitive to modernity. And as long as there are books on shelves, let us disseminate the concept of marking one’s ownership in them with a bookplate, be it heraldic in 18th Century style, or psychedelically produced through software. In fact if you observe the production and creation of ex-libris in France by contemporary artists (be they engravers, painters, designers or graphic artists, one can note that the majority is ordered by bibliophiles; the small remainder is for collectors but who usually are also bibliophiles. Thus the Bertrand, Maugard, Mercier, Nevoux, Nik-Dad, Nué, and some thirty more artists are communicators who vehicle the know-how and the art of bookplates to bibliophiles who are so discreet that their existence is unsuspected. I believe there will always be someone, at least in France, who will ask the always unexpected question, “Do you have an ex-libris to your name?” and thus perpetuate the proof of a certain refinement, the pleasure of the spirit and of good savoir-vivre, contained in the gesture of pasting your personal bookplate in a book which you own and is important to you.


Why deny it? I can assure you that it works well in France, the tradition is continuing, and even if it is not as common as fish-and-chips in Britain, bookplates in books continue to be alive and kicking. Proof is that AFCEL still exists, more active and always ready to guide, inform, stir up interest and study through research on bookplates. In France ex-libris have kept their nature and are full of life, always young and like Champagne, because here the erudite bibliophile is more frequent than the avid and insatiable collector.


The magazine L’Ex-libris Français is published four times a year since 1945 without a break. In each trimestrial 32-page booklet there is nearly always an article on a creator of bookplates, discovered, unveiled, and brought to the knowledge of all. This proves that French ex-libris, like haute couture or perfumes, remain an intellectual value typical of our country, a surviving witness of the Enlightenment rather than a more or less well-stocked shop-stall of a neighbourhood supermarket.


Jean-François Chassaing