The Blue Plaques of London (1985) by Luis Manuel Palis

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Plaques exude this sense of magic.  Whenever we encounter a destination and a plaque reveals that a famous person spent time there, the site now has this sense of importance.  Similar to portraits, except more emphasis on text than a person’s face.  Although some plaques have busts and profile shots of people.

Reading the introductory pages shows that this book came out of a relationship between Venezuela and England thanks to important historical events in the former’s history.  Furthermore, going to London represents an important part of a Venezuelan’s life and this includes the author.  With each short profile (longest ones go to two pages), Palis depicts London as this bustling place where every mover-and-shaker in world history visited.  Social reformers, members of the art world, politicians, medical practitioners, and soldiers have their own profile.  All the accomplishments they left for future generations give solid reasons why they deserve a plaque.

The title itself refers a common type of plaque found throughout London.  A circular sign with a light blue color (some plaques do use a dark blue) and white letters and borders.  I can see why people would use it, it makes for a nice, polite color.  So common, when other plaques use other colors, it comes as a bit of a shock.  While the colors brown, grey, black, green, beige, and white may show up, some colors seem downright inappropriate for a plaque.  One example comes from a plaque for Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands.  The color scheme of black with red borders and letters feels so wrong compared to the understated and subdued plaques featured in this book.  Other plaques use decorations, a list of accomplishments, or even a painting, but no, Queen Wilhelmina’s plaque apparently warranted something bold and loud.  However, I noticed that for famous people with plaques who lived during the 1500s to the 1800s, a lot of creativity went into plaques for them.  Some designed with a rectangle shape and some had textured decorations.  The most popular decoration during the 1700s, came the carved wreath of flowers.  For famous people in the 1800s to the 1900s, the plain light blue circle shaped plaque took over in popularity.

I bought this book from a book stand at Charlotte’s Bon Odori Japanese Festival at about a dollar.  I understand why.  This book has a lot of typos.  Furthermore, Palis’s writing goes from the objective listing of accomplishments to praising their talents.  The photographic reproductions of the plaques also vary in quality.  Some show a lot of detail while others show that the photographer could not focus on the plaque properly.  Also, some plaques clearly needed a good washing.  Finally, I saw a little piece of paper that corrected an error in one profile.

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