Provenance, or the history of a book's previous ownership, is a priority of any rare book library. Provenance evidence can be documented through various forms of ownership, including inscriptions, marginalia, arms and bookplates. A bookplate - or ex libris, from the Latin for 'from the books of' - is a small printed plate pasted inside the cover of a book signifying ownership. Since the first books were prestigious objects to own, early bookplates incorporated heraldic devices relating to the owner, including a name, motto, crest, or most commonly a coat of arms, within a very ornate design. The oldest bookplates typically depict a coat of arms without a name, referred to as anonymous armorial bookplates.
An interest in the history of bookplates developed in the late nineteenth century and the study and collection of bookplates flourished until the early twentieth century. A Guide to the Study of Book-plates (Ex libris), by John Byrne Leicester Warren (Lord de Tabley), is one of the first studies into the styles and types of bookplates, and established a general classification of styles of British bookplates.
This Flickr album of bookplates is a retrospective undertaking based on years of provenance research by Fisher librarian Philip Oldfield, editor of the British Armorial Bindings database, who has identified hundreds of bookplates from the library's collections. By digitizing bookplates and uploading them onto to Flickr, scholars, provenance researchers, and art and book lovers can examine bookplates held by the Fisher Library for both reference and general interest. As well, viewers can also contribute to the librarys research by commenting on the images and even assist in identifying any unknown bookplates shown.
Some examples can be seen below (click on the image for a larger view), while the rest of the set can be accessed here.
- Elizabeth Corbett-Nicholson