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.
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.