World Book Day on 5 March is a day for celebrating the joy and value of books and reading, especially for children. I wonder how many of you reading this began your relationship with books at school?
I remember Prizegiving Day at my old Grammar School. Those pupils who had excelled academically or in sport, high attendance etc were allowed to choose a book or books up to a certain value. These would then be purchased by the school and presented to the lucky pupils in the presence of the whole school and invited parents. At the front of the book(s) would be inserted a printed bookplate inscribed with your name and the details of your achievement.
By my time (the 1960s) the bookplates were fairly plain, but in the late 19th and early 20th century they might be highly elaborate, decorative pieces of artwork, typical of the style of the period, which would no doubt be proudly shown by recipients to their family and friends. Not just state schools, but also Sunday Schools and other religious organisations might make such presentations of books with bookplates as these examples show (click on the images to see larger versions):
All of these bookplates were found within children’s story books, many dating back to the 19th century, which form part of Westminster Libraries reserve stock collection. How these books, given to children at locations all over Britain, came to end up in Westminster Libraries might make a fascinating story in their own right, if only the details had been recorded!
Schools still give out books as prizes, though in this digital age it is perhaps as likely to be an e-reader or electronic book tokens. I bet they don’t come with a bookplate!
However since 1998, on World Book Day, every child in full-time education in the United Kingdom and Ireland is given a £1 book token. They can then take the book tokens to a bookshop and purchase either one of 10 children’s books specially priced at £1 or get £1 off any book with a full price of £2.99 or more. So every school child can have a book of their own.