What do bookplates tell us about book owners for whom they were designed? The small labels (also known as “ex libris”) were intended to be pasted inside an individual’s books to connect the book with its owner. But what other connections regarding the owner’s personal traits or interests might they reveal? Recently, we created an album in Flickr that highlights bookplates from our holdings and challenges viewers to locate a portrait of the associated book owner. At least one dedicated Flickr member rose to the challenge, pointing to portraits where possible and giving biographical details on many of the owners. Several of the bookplates generated conversations among viewers.
One of my personal favorites is this one, which conveys the simple beauty of Japanese art while also showing a pose familiar across cultures for an engrossed reader.
The Flickr commenter went to some lengths to track down the Helen Louise Taylor whose name appears on the bookplate. Using passport and other records, she located a Helen Mary Anthony Taylor whose name matched that of the artist and whose passport, issued in 1921, suggested that Taylor was bound for Japan, as well as stops in the Middle East and Europe. With further sleuthing, the commenter determined that Helen Mary Anthony Taylor had a niece named Helen Louise. Articles found through Web searches led to more information about Helen Louise Taylor, who became Dr. Helen Louise Dexter, and noted Dr. Taylor’s great love of travel and learning. What a perfect fit (or influence?) her bookplate turned out to be!
The twenty-five examples of original engravings, etchings, and lithographs featured in the album are from the Ruthven (pronounced Rivven) Deane Collection. Deane, a Chicago businessman, bird-watcher, and bookplate collector, compiled approximately 14,000 ex libris between 1910 and his death in 1934. The Flickr album includes the highly detailed bookplate used by Deane himself. Flickr viewers not only found a portrait of Deane, but also helped identify the portraits and birds featured in the plate.
Sara W. Duke, Curator of Popular & Applied Graphic Arts, has spent many hours inventorying the bookplates, putting her in a good position to make the appealing selection of bookplates to feature on Flickr. We timed the release of the bookplate album for National Friends of Libraries week (Oct. 19-25) because so often lovers of books are also friends of libraries.
Whether you savor pictures or reading or both, you’ll want to sample these gems. And if you’re up for a challenge, there are still some bookplates remaining to connect up with their owners!
- Explore the Flickr bookplate album and the comments accumulating there.
- Browse additional bookplates in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.
- Look through the first volume of the journal Ex Libris issued by the Washington Ex Libris Society and the American Bookplate Society (1896-1897), available via Hathitrust.org.
- Learn about National Friends of Libraries Week and begin planning for next year…