Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Book Plate Exhibition

The library here at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center recently mounted a small art exhibition featuring book plates from their historical book collection.  I've always loved bookplates, at the bottom I've shared pictures of some of my favorite bookplates from my collection, so it was really cool to go see the exhibit. They scanned the bookplates, blew them up to 24 x 36, and mounted them nicely so you can really see lots of detail.  I was struck by the variety!

This is the text that accompanied the exhibit:
"A bookplate, or ex libris as often referred to, is a decorative label pasted inside the cover of a book to indicate ownership. The first bookplates originated in Germany along with the invention of the letterpress in the 15th century. As printed books began to flourish and borrowing became more prevalent in the 16th century, a record of ownership became necessary. Throughout the 17th century, bookplates were predominantly used by superiors in monasteries, philosophers, mathematicians, and physicians and were commonly designed with a coat of arms. The 18th and 19th centuries brought about copper-plated engravings which replaced woodcuts and introduced more decorative and ornamental designs. After World War II, ready-made bookplates became available. The current exhibit on display is a sampling of the bookplate collection from the Bird Library’s History of Medicine. All are believed to be post-WWII and were contained within books donated to the collection from those named on the plates. All bookplates were scanned and enlarged for display purposes."
---Kristi Kohl, Head of Serials Services

Some of the bookplates had a modern feeling vibe, quite illustrator-ly.  Others had a modern vibe in the architectural sense, with a sort of early-20th century reach for the sky feeling. 

I love this.  It feels very John Steinbeck to me.

I love this too- I think this is my favorite out of the whole exhibit, because this seems so like me.  I love the woods and being outside and hiking, and also having my nose stuck in a book.

Some had a very medieval feel, often complete with animals straight out of a fantastic bestiary. 

I have no idea what that third word is.  The rest of it reads: "Let thy _______, therefore, be thy pastime and game: which (if thou love it as thou oughtest) will so delight thee, that thou shalt think no time so well bestowed as upon it."  That missing word seems fairly important actually-  it looks like "bake" but that doesn't make much sense.  When I think of what would fit there, I think of something like Work or Prayer or something.  And I have no idea what any of that has to do with the little monster.

This is so strange!  Why would you label your books with an evil demon yelling at another demon?  And the flowery writing is so at odds with the picture!

Several had a classical/age of enlightenment/age of discovery sort of feel.

I put "Dii Laboribus Omnia Vendunt" into google and got variously: "All are hard sells" (I think the literal google translate version),  "The gods sell everything for labor", "No pain, no gain" and in my opinion the most graceful translation, "Heaven concedes everything to the laborious". 

Even for a doctor this one seems particularly grim.

I especially like this one- it's so custom, it makes me want to design some bookplates for myself!

Exploring this exhibition made me go back to my collection and take a look at some of my favorite bookplates.

These are the first two I remember, you can perhaps guess at my age by the quality of my penmanship.  I loved those snoopy ones especially.  I was talking to my mom about the bookplates the other day and she said the only ones she ever remembered having were snoopy bookplates, and I actually think "my" snoopy ones were actually some that she had leftover.  IMO that makes them even cooler!

When I was a little older, I picked out this undersea stamp.  I remember a few times carefully coloring it in with my stamp pad markers, but mostly I think I just used it black and white.  I still have it actually, maybe I should get it out and use it now.  I also remember asking for this embosser one year for my birthday.  It seemed very grown up (as a kid of about 12).  It reads "desk of" rather than "library of", but as I never had any official documents that needed to be embossed, I used it mostly for books.  

Later in high school/college I remember getting these.  They were my favorites and seemed like a splurge luxury item.  I spent lots of time trying to decide which books were sufficiently important to merit the "good" bookplates.  

Then about ten years ago, my grandfather gave me half a box of his bookplates.  That was again pretty special for me, having a connection to him.  He's passed away now and I have many of his books.  It's always fun to open up one and see his bookplate with his name or mine.  In his case, these two, theater and ships are both very fitting, those were both strong interests of his.  Mine are perhaps less personal, but still emblematic of things I love: books, animals, fantasy, family?  Good things I think.

The crafty side of me thinks I ought to carve a new bookplate stamp for myself.  I did a little stamp carving at a class a couple years ago, and what better way to make a really personal label, but I'm not sure I'll ever get around to it!

Do you use bookplates in your books?  Do you have any from beloved family members?


  1. What a lovely exhibit! Thank you for sharing it with us.

    I believe that word is "buke" which I took as an alternative spelling of book. I had to re-check the source, as so many seemed to be from doctors.

    I am struck by the personalization of so many of them; not just "write-in" like latter day (yours, mine). I noticed that (?) Violet Sturgeon was quite literally illustrated. Just above that, John Luther Maroon is surrounded by what I laughingly thought was poisons, until I remembered that the poison is in the dose, and also remembering the context, realized that those are botanic medicines!

    Just a fun read. It reminded me of some bookplates I printed out free once, and I think I will go look for more.

  2. Wow! I have never seen such a collection.
    I made an ensemble in which the coat was made to look like an old book about dragons. Inside I used marble-look fabric. And then I designed a bookplate with my son, Just black and white line drawing. It has a dragon I drew within a shield shape. It is printed onto silk.