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Heraldic Arts -The Heraldry Society of Scotland

The Society's Book-Plate

Now that the Society's library is in good order and accessible to members, the Committee has commissioned a book-plate for its own books. The commission has been undertaken by Romilly Squire, a member of the Society, Herald Painter Extraordinary to the Court of the Lord Lyon and Limner of the Priory of Scotland of the Order of St John. On this occasion, and for the first time, the Committee asked for a depiction of the Society's full achievement. The result, which has been warmly welcomed by the Committee, is illustrated here.

Romilly Squire has also contributed the article which follows on contemporary heraldic art with special reference to book-plates and this one in particular.

Arms of Romilly Squire

   Book-Plate Design - by Romilly Squire


The modern trend in book-plate design is to dispense with the inclusion of EX LIBRIS and the name of the individual or body concerned. Heraldry is, after all, a system of identification and many heraldists now consider that any additional form of identification is neither necessary nor desirable. However, as a great many of the books in our library have been presented to the Society over the years by members and friends, it was decided that space should be made available for the inclusion of a suitable inscription to identify and acknowledge the donor.

On occasions when a book has not been acquired by gift or bequest, the book-plate can be trimmed to exclude the empty space at the bottom of the design.

Obviously, when designing a bookplate, it is not necessary for the artist to place the Arms within a box unless, of course, he or she is asked to do so by the client. This is purely a matter of personal taste. Whenever a new heraldic design is created, however, regardless of the personal taste of the client involved, the artist must always take into consideration the final application of the design: how and where is it to be used? In the case of a book-plate this, luckily, presents no problem. The final setting for a book-plate will invariably be rectangular in shape. The design should therefore conform to this format. There will undoubtedly be occasions when an artist will be required to design a coat of arms to fit within any variety of unusual shapes but the problem's which result will not be covered here.

The first stage of any heraldic design requires the production of a rough sketch of the full achievement so that one fills the whole area within which one is working, at the same time concentrating on the relative proportions of all the elements at one's disposal. This is best achieved by working initially on tracing paper; any alterations can then be made as work progresses from one stage to the next.

Contemporary Scottish heraldic art, pioneered by Graham Johnston and A.G. Law Samson and later refined by Don Pottinger, attempts to emulate the classic proportions of medieval heraldry with shield, helm and crest each occupying about one-third of the overall design, and the mantling being kept as simple as possible. However, there are occasions when a more inventive and elaborate use of mantling is required. either to fill a space or to satisfy the personal preference of the client. It is important, though, that however complicated the mantling may appear in its two-dimensional form, it should always look as if it were physically possible to achieve the same result with a piece of fabric.

Once the artist is satisfied with the design, the tracing can then be transferred to its final surface. whether this be paper, vellum, line board. wood or any number of different materials.

A book-plate design is obviously destined finally for printing. The finished art-work should therefore be produced on good quality line board. The final drawing may be made using either gouache or Indian ink but, to ensure that there is no loss of quality in the final printing, it is always advisable to make the working drawing at least twice the size of the eventual printed image. Thus any minor flaws in the drawing will be sharpened up in the process of reduction.

As colour printing these days is extremely expensive. book-plates are invariably printed in one colour on either white or coloured This means that the design must be produced in line and solid black. or in line and Petra Sancta, the method of representing colour with lines of hatching. This is named after the 17th century Jesuit writer on heraldry who devised the system: it is generally reserved for uncoloured illustrations where an indication of the tinctures is considered essential.

In the case of the Society's book-plate it was decided that the crest was so elaborate that the use of hatching would only have Confused the image. However, if in other circumstances one decided that the use of Petra Sancta was suitable, this can either be applied free-hand or by using one of the proprietary brands of transfer hatching. This would obviously incur additional expense for the client but, if it is well done and if it does not interfere with the heraldic content of the Arms, the Petra Sancta system is both very attractive and, at the same time, most informative.

The working methods described in this article apply not only to bookplate design but to any heraldic design which is intended ultimately for printing. This would include letter-headings. business cards, invitation cards (weddings etc.), greetings cards, book illustration —in fact. any situation in which the display of heraldry was felt to be both desirable and in good taste.

In his book Scots Heraldry Sir Thomas Innes of Learney urges us to use our heraldry. But we must be careful to use it correctly. If you are ever asked to produce a book-plate or any other heraldic art-work, it is important to make absolutely certain that the potential client is legally entitled to bear the Arms in question. Many and varied are the legal pitfalls that can open up before the unsuspecting artist. However, in the words of Sir Thomas Innes: "Whenever it is correctly used, [heraldic display] is not only justifiable but honest and pleasing. No more splendid form of decoration exists, for it is at once artistic and interesting, and affords a pleasure which meaningless tracery and 'stock patterns' can never supply".

The Double Tressure No.XI, 1989


© The Heraldry Society of Scotland   last Update 27 Oct 2021