The Ex-libris Journal (London) was the first regular bookplate publication, 1891. It aimed at being completely international.

One of several German publications started in the 19th Century. In Germany, there was both a ‘national society and a Berlin-based Bookplate club.

The French ‘Archives’ started in 1894. Such early publications are rich sources of information on bookplates.

There were regional clubs and publications, for example in Basel, which had lively impetus from its president Stickelberger.

FISAE: its history and statutes home

by Benoît Junod

(extensively based on an article by Mme Germaine Meyer-Noirel, published in L'Ex-libris Français, vol. X, 1989, pp 209-214 and a text prepared by Dr. Ottmar Premstaller for the Wels Congress, 2004)

The origins...

Ex-libris, as small printed art graphics pasted in books to identify their owners, have existed for more than five hundred years. The first use of mobile type by Gutenberg caused a swift development of libraries and their owners - proud of their possessions - chose to mark their books with printed ex-libris, or bookplates as they are commonly called in English.

Apart from rare exceptions, such as a mid-18th century German collection whose owner has not been identified and the collections of Adelaide Le Caron de Fleury (constituted c.1780-1793) or Miss Jenkins of Bath (active c.1820) ex-libris collecting did not, however, really start before the 1860s. When it did, because of the historical, sociological and artistic interest of these small prints, the fashion spread like wildfire. Societies of collectors were founded in London and Berlin in 1891, and in many European capitals in the subsequent decade. These societies enabled and promoted contacts amongst collectors. Periodicals such as journals, year-books and circular letters gave members who lived far away from each other the possibility to correspond and to exchange bookplates and knowledge as to the objects of their collections. On the left side of this page, there are illustrations of several such publications, followed by examples of covers of contemporary ex-libris periodicals. Meetings and lectures at major cities like Berlin, London, Paris or Vienna enabled people to actually meet. At first, the prime object of collection was old bookplates, particularly the early rarities, but soon many collectors widened their interest to include contemporary plates and commissioned ex-libris not only for their libraries but also for exchange. Some of these, since the 1920s, have tended to develop into small art graphics more often exchanged than ever pasted into books; they must, however, be conceived to be placed in books as marks of ownership for a real person or institution to warrant the term ex-libris being used and to be coveted by ex-libris collectors, rather than persons interested in free graphics or ephemera.

Many bookplate societies, however, ceased functioning in the early decades of the twentieth century. There was furthermore a lull in interest during the 1930-1950 period, caused by the economic crisis and the Second World War, but "ex-librism" has since been slowly expanding. In 1949 already, with numerous societies having been re-established, one of the most active international collectors, Gianni Mantero, with the support of the publisher Luigi Bolaffio, also from Italy, Johan Schwencke from the Netherlands, and Hubert Woyty-Wimmer and Toni Hofer, both Austrians, launched the idea of organising an international meeting to bring together people sharing an interest in ex-libris. He rightly considered that exchanges of bookplates by correspondance would never replace the direct contacts which could be taken at that sort of meeting, especially between collectors and artists.

First congresses...

In 1953, at Kufstein (Austria), a meeting pompously called "congress" brought together some sixty persons from seven countries. In 1954, a similar event took place in Lugano (Switzerland) followed by one in 1955 in Antwerp (Belgium), in 1956 in Frankfurt (Federal Republic of Germany) and in 1957 in Amsterdam. Participants were so pleased with these meetings that the experience snowballed and in 1958 some 150 persons from 12 European countries met in Barcelona (Spain).

In view of the increasing size of the congresses and the burden for the organisers, it was decided that they would take place every second year. Venues were decided at once: Vienna for 1960, Paris for 1962 and Kracow for 1964.

These apparently informal congresses had already taken important decisions. In 1958, G. Mantero and A. Herry presented a list of technical symbols for techniques used in printed ex-libris which was adopted by the congress and only replaced by a new list in 2002 at the XXIX Congress of FISAE. At the congress in Paris in 1962, model exchange lists for collectors were adopted and a proposal was made to found a federation of bookplate societies within the framework of UNESCO. This project was abandoned not only because institutional support was hard to obtain rapidly, but because there were a number of societies from Eastern Europe with which the West European societies did not want to sever ties.

The founding of FISAE,
Hamburg 1966.
Carlo Chiesa, Germaine Meyer-Noirel,
Gianni Mantero
(click on the photo to enlarge)

How FISAE came into being...

In 1965, at a meeting of the French bookplate society AFCEL, at which Gianni Mantero was present as well as Albert Collart, then Secretary of the Belgian ex-libris magazine Graphia, The idea was launched to call the Federation FISAE, on the basis of the initials of its title in French. A few weeks later, Jean-Charles Meyer - the husband of Mme Meyer-Noirel - visited Gianni Mantero in Como and Carlo Chiesa, a very influential Swiss ex-librist, at Lugano, and draft statutes were prepared. They were then sent for comment to 25 bookplate societies, and 17 responded quite favourably. When the 1966 congress opened in Hamburg, discussions were still sharp. Most articles and concepts were uncontroversial, but there was a project of direct financial contribution by the member societies to FISAE which had to be abandoned as its being maintained would have prevented consensus.
Thus the statutes were adopted by fifteen founding societies, those of Austria, Belgium (N.E.K and Graphia), Denmark, the Federal Republic of Germany, France, the German Democratic Republic, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain (A.E.B.), Sweden, and Tchecoslovakia. All congratulated themselves for having done so "without any financial implications." The question of an obligatory financial contribution by member societies has constantly been refused. The working languages were deemed to be German, French and English. At the Oxford Congress of FISAE in 1982, the Belgian delegate Leo Winkeler proposed that Dutch (or Flemish) be added, but even the Dutch delegate spoke against, and the official languages remained three.

To ensure continuity despite no permanent seat or organs, the statutes foresee that at each congress, the president of the society in whose country the next meeting will take place, takes over the presidency. He is assisted by two vice-presidents, the two persons who immediately preceeded him in his functions. FISAE has an Executive Secretary, who for several years now has been Professor W. E. Butler, collector and editor of Bookplate International (his address is on the ‘Other ex-libris institutions and contacts, etc. page, and an e-mail link can be found on the contact page).

What are FISAE Congresses like?

Of course, national societies of bookplate enthusiasts organise local congresses nearly every year. Some of them are open to all collectors, others only to members of the society. There are some with strong participation (for example the German Ex-libris Society's) and others with only a couple of dozen persons. They can be of great interest, though without some knowledge of the local language, difficulties might arise. But none of them have the international flavour, the wide-contact interest which can be found in FISAE congresses. Every two years, they are a landmark in collectors' and artists' calendars. The number of participants in FISAE congresses has remained fairly stable, with 160 at Barcelona (1958), 260 at Como (Italy) in 1968, about 170 at Frederikshavn in 2002, 400 at Monchengladbach (Germany) in 1990 and Wels in 2004, and over 500 in Chrudim (Czech Republic) in 1996. Larger congresses have both advantages and drawbacks - the main advantage lies in the variety of collectors and artists present, the drawback is the difficulty of meeting all the people one would like to!

At each Congress, one or more societies have joined: Switzerland in 1968, Slovenia in 1970, Great Britain in 1972, the USA in 1974, Finland and Canada in 1976 (the latter is now dormant), Japan in 1982, China, Russia, Luxemburg, Italy and Israel in 1988 (the latter is also dormant), Estonia, Spain (the Catalan society) and the KME of Poland in 1990, Lithuania in 1992, Ukraine and the Belgrade Ex-libris Circle in 1996, Turkey and Mexico in 2000 and Argentina, Andalucia (Spain) and Taiwan in 2002.

Fees for participation are charged by societies organising FISAE congresses to cover costs of publications, of services provided such as excursions, badges, etc. and - of course! - an official dinner. The fee usually oscillates around €150 –€170 per person, and a bit less for accompanying persons. Organisers tend to suggest a range of hotels from star-studded to youth hostels, so as to keep congresses accessible to all.

The main reason for many people to take part in the congresses is to have contacts with other collectors and artists, to exchange ex-libris and to commission new ones.There are usually several interesting exhibitions of bookplates on show, both historical and contemporary, as well as slide-illustrated conferences, (though lack of interpretation can sometimes render them difficult!) There are always a few stands with ex-libris and books about bookplates on sale. There is also, obligatorily, a meeting of the delegates of member societies, which decides on the venue for the congress to be held four years later, and confirms the one held two years hence. Other subjects of common interest are discussed as well.

It is without doubt the conviviality of these 3-5 day events which makes them so agreable, and the exciting possibility to be with a group of people sharing the same interests and passion for bookplates.

Link to History Congress by Congress ->

back to top of page home


copyright (C) bjunod 2004, All rights reserved back to top