What is a Bookplate

Bookplate - Keith WingroveA bookplate or Ex Libris is a label identifying the owner of a book. It is usually adhered inside a book’s front cover or to its front endpaper.

Bookplates are sometimes called Ex Libris because this Latin phrase meaning From the books of… traditionally appears on bookplates.

Bookplates have always shown the name of a person or an institution such as a school.

Prior to the introduction of pictorial bookplates in Australia in 1899, most bookplates were heraldic and the coat-of-arms of a particular family, person or institution formed the design.

Worldwide, thousands of people collect bookplates and there are bookplate societies in more than thirty countries. Bookplate collectors form an international fellowship in which the exchange of bookplates is the common practice and it is possible to build a collection of bookplates if you have bookplates to swap.

08A modest personal collection is about 5,000 bookplates whereas some very serious collectors have upwards of 50,000 individual bookplates. The British Museum collects bookplates and owns about 250,000 whereas Yale University in America has approximately one million bookplates. Australian collections are developing and the State Library of Victoria has about 60,000 bookplates. In Australia you can look at bookplates in any major State, National or university library.

Pictorial bookplates are collected because of their subject matter; the person for whom they were created; or for the artist who created them. In the past, really well knownAustralian artists have created bookplates, such as: Adrian Feint, Allan Jordan, Pro Hart, David Frazer, Helen Ogilvie, Kenneth Jack, L. Roy Davies, Lionel Lindsay, Norman Lindsay, Pixie O’Harris, Tom Roberts, D. H. Souter and Eric Thake.

A bookplate design can be created in any medium that can be replicated and provided to the owner with multiple copies. Ex Libris bookplates can be created as drawings, photographs, computer based designs and are also sought after collectables when create as original graphic prints such as: etchings, wood engravings, woodcuts and linocuts. A bookplate design most often says something about the person for whom it was made and traditionally reflects some aspect of their status,achievements, philosophical or vocational interests, hobbies etc. On the other hand, pictorial bookplates can simply be good designs.

07A bookplate usually bears the name or the initials of the person for whom it was created together with words such as: Ex Libris or This Book Belongs To or His Book or Her Book. Without such words and the name or initials of the owner a design is simply not a personal bookplate. A bookplate design bearing the words, but nobody‚Äôs name is a universal bookplate that can be used by anybody. Universal bookplates are not generally sought after by collectors.


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