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The Graphic Beauty of Vintage Bookplates

The University of British Columbia Library has digitized hundreds of highly personalized bookplates from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Black in on white paper bookplate with a dragonfly (Toronto, 1930-69). It was illustrated by Thoreau MacDonald, a Group of Seven founder and a leading Canadian book illustrator (courtesy Thomas Murray Collection, University of British Columbia Library)

While the bookplate survives in some book lovers’ tomes, its popularity in personal libraries has somewhat faded. The simple idea of a label on the inside of the front cover to indicate ownership (a less aggressive update of the medieval book curse that warned against theft) dates back to 15th-century Germany. Widespread availability of books, and printing, in the 19th century helped make the bookplate a fashionable individual expression.

Light green, blue and blank ink bookplate with a wolf howling at a crescent moon (M .B.; Bookplate Type, 1900-99) (courtesy University of British Columbia Library)

Recently, the University of British Columbia (UBC) Library added bookplates from its Rare Books and Special Collections to their ongoing Flickr Commons album. These examples are part of the Thomas Murray Collection. The Canadian book collector Murray’s focus bent towards his home country — its artists and its book owners — and UBC lists, where possible, biographical details of both parties. One by Group of Seven illustrator Thoreau MacDonald depicts a dragonfly soaring over a tree-lined lake. Along with those on Flickr, you can explore 1,095 digitized bookplates on the UBC Library website, with the option to sort by year and visual subject, such as heraldry, ships, and portraits.

As we’ve previously explored on Hyperallergic with the Library of Congress’s bookplate collection, which features examples from well-known figures like author Jack London and president Woodrow Wilson, bookplates can be highly personal. For instance, one 1920s UBC bookplate for a German horticulturist, who later worked in botanical gardens in the United States and Canada, is emblazoned with a gardener watching an airplane. Iron Crosses, which now appear ominous, border one edge of the design.

Below are examples from UBC’s Thomas Murray Collection, with hundreds more viewable online.

Brown ink on cream colored paper bookplate with German symbolism picturing a plane with a gardener watching on (1922). Heinrich Teuscher was born in Berlin and worked there as a horticulturalist and landscape architect. In 1922 he immigrated to Boston and later worked at the Morton Arboretum in Chicago, the Boyce Thompson Arboretum in New York, the New York Botanical Garden, and the Jardin Botanique de Montréal (courtesy Thomas Murray Collection, University of British Columbia Library)
Bookplate with a male figure riding a Pegasus (United States, 1904). May have been illustrated by Edward J. Wheeler (courtesy Thomas Murray Collection, University of British Columbia Library)
Bookplate feature a lakeside camping scene framed by Scottish thistles, with logos representing the Royal Army Medical Corps, the University of Toronto, and Johns Hopkins University (United States, 19141). Norman M. Keith attended the University of Toronto and was with the Royal Army Medical Corps in WWI. He later worked at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore (courtesy Thomas Murray Collection, University of British Columbia Library)
Art Deco style bookplate (Antioch Bookplate Company, 1930-69) (courtesy Thomas Murray Collection, University of British Columbia Library)
Brown ink on white paper bookplate with a flying duck (Wanklyn, 1900-69). Frederic Lumb Wanklyn was a business executive based in Montréal (courtesy Thomas Murray Collection, University of British Columbia Library)
Bookplate with an escutcheon quartered per cross (1881) (courtesy Thomas Murray Collection, University of British Columbia Library)
Colour woodblock print bookplate (Japan, nd) Frederick Claude Vivian Lane (1880-1969) was an Australian printer, and the country’s first Olympic swimmer (courtesy University of British Columbia Library)
Blue, pink, yellow, gold, and black ink on cream paper bookplate (Rustcraft USA, 1930-69). Gertrude Elliott was an American children’s book illustrator (courtesy Thomas Murray Collection, University of British Columbia Library)
Red ochre ink bookplate with an open book and beehive (Québec, nd) (courtesy Thomas Murray Collection, University of British Columbia Library)

View more book plates from the Thomas Murray Collection online at the University of British Columbia Library.

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