Johnston, Graham (1869-1927)
From earliest times, people have indicated their ownership of texts with a variety of marks. The ex-libris, or bookplate, emerged along with printing in Germany in the late 15th century. Ex-libris can take a number of forms: as a label pasted into a book; as a stamp applied to the volume; or less commonly, as supralibros, which were heraldic motifs stamped onto the outer boards. Common design elements included armorial bearings, often embellished with architectural references or ornamental additions drawn from nature, such as foliage and wreaths. Others were essentially pictorial. Nearly all were minor works of decorative art in their own right.
Bookplates reached the height of their popularity domestically in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Not only was it considered the height of fashion for you or your institution to own your very own ex-libris, but, following the publication in 1880 of J. Leicester Warren’s Guide to the study of Book-plates, there emerged a certain vogue in collecting them.
From 1900 the finest Scottish practitioners available for commissions tended to be armorial designers. The best of them did work for or were herald painters at the Court of Lord Lyon in Edinburgh. Lyon Court has at any one time only one designated “herald painter”. The finest early artists were Graham Johnston and Law Sampson. Johnston was the first principal artist to work from 1898 to 1927 and produced in excess of 160 plates. He advertised diligently, both directly and by sending so much work for inclusion in the Ex-Libris Journal post-1900. He despised the heraldry of many of the engravers used by J & E Bumpus, even going so far as to write to the King in hopes of commissioning. Never-the less Johnston dominates in that golden age of Scottish armory, he has also inspired armorial designers ever since.