About Bookplates

Bookplate of Charles P. Searle at the Library of Congress.

I love bookplates! Pre-pandemic I used to open books in used bookstores to see whether they had old bookplates affixed within the front pages. Post-pandemic I try not to touch anything unless I think I want to buy it.

The purpose of a bookplate was (is) to indicate ownership of the book. Books used to be rare and expensive. If you owned books you were probably literate, wealthy or a monk. A monk was probably more literate than the average person and would have had good reason to own books. A wealthy person, also literate, could afford to own books.

Bookplate of Jack London at the Library of Congress.

The older the bookplate, the more intricate the bookplate is, such as this German bookplate owned by Ernst, Duke of Bavaria. Astonishingly, the Gutenberg Bible at the Library of Congress also has a bookplate affixed.

Bookplate of Oliver Wendell Holmes at the Library of Congress.

Bookplates probably originated in Germany. Scholars came to this conclusion because the earliest known example, circa the middle of the 15th century, can be found in Germany. And the earliest dated example by an American engraver is a bookplate for Thomas Dering in 1749.

You’ll notice that bookplates are stamped with “ex libris.” This latin phrase translates to “from the library of.” 

Bookplate of Newman Erb, a railroad executive, with a portrait of Edgar Allan Poe, at the Library of Congress.

Today bookplates are adhesive labels that you can affix inside a book and write your name on. Not as fancy, but works for me.

Do you use bookplates?

xoxo, Jane