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Heraldic Bookplates
By W. Neil Fraser


Those entitled to bear an authentic coat of arms, inherited, matriculated from an armigerous ancestor, or by way of a new grant of arms through a recognized heraldic authority such as the Lord Lyon King of Arms in Scotland, The College of Arms in England, or the Canadian Heraldic Authority, have many options as to how their arms may be displayed.

One of the more popular uses for an authentic coat of arms is the heraldic bookplate.  During our lifetime many of us collect books and retain those of special interest in a personal library.  Such favourite books are usually passed down to our descendants, and what better way is there to make them aware of the original owner than the heraldic bookplate incorporating the personal arms of an ancestor?

One of my favourite books is A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson, given to me by my Godmother when I was six and just learning to read.  The book was a gift during the time I was confined to the Isolation Ward at Vancouver General Hospital for six weeks with Scarlet Fever, and not allowed visitors.  The poems kept me fascinated, and I read them often.  Sadly, the original book had to be destroyed on my release from hospital, but I was given another copy that I still have and greatly treasure. It was one of the first of my many treasured books to have my heraldic bookplate installed on the flyleaf.

The full achievement of a coat of arms is painted in colour by the heraldic artist, while the heraldic bookplate is generally drawn in black and white.  I am fortunate to be one of the 231 people to have one of the bookplates by renowned Canadian heraldic artist Gordon Macpherson of Burlington, Ontario. Gordon is a self-taught amateur heraldic artist who serves as Niagara Herald Extraordinary with the Canadian Heraldic Authority.  Gordon was recently appointed a Member of the Order of Canada in recognition of his more than 60 years of outstanding contributions to heraldic art in Canada.  He was also honoured with a display of his bookplates, arranged by the Toronto Branch Royal Heraldry Society of Canada, followed by a dinner at Hart House, University of Toronto.  Hart House has many fine examples of Canadian heraldry in armorial murals by another renowned Canadian, Scott Carter, whose work inspired Gordon Macpherson as a young student at U. of Toronto.  The exhibit catalogue of Armorial Bookplates by Roderick Gordon Murdoch Macpherson sold out quickly, and my signed copy has been added to my small collection of heraldry books.

Heraldic bookplates have been used by armigers for many years and are often seen in rare book collections in libraries, the books having been donated from private collections.  The small library at my Toronto club, Royal Canadian Military Institute, includes many books on military history, donated by the families of deceased members, and many have the heraldic bookplates from the original owner.  The Baldwin Room for rare books in Toronto Reference Library, and many of the books in the Scottish Collection in the library at University of Guelph, Ontario have heraldic bookplates of the original owner.


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