[Bookplate of Yale University Library] by Wm. F. Hopson, 1901, 10.9 x 7.6 cm. Pearson-Lowenhaupt Collection of English and American Bookplates (BKP 30), Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library, Yale University.
William Fowler Hopson’s 1901 bookplate in commemoration of Yale’s bicentennial cleverly uses the classic “book-pile” motif to reference the gifts of books that marked the founding of the college in 1701.
This guide presents an overview of bookplates and the Yale Bookplate Collection. In addition, it offers different search strategies for identifying bookplate materials and suggests several themes by which to explore these collections. It also lists library exhibitions that feature materials from the Yale Bookplate Collection.
Bookplates, also known as ex-libris, are labels pasted inside the front covers of books to indicate ownership. The custom of affixing bookplates to books began in the mid-15th century. Though earlier manuscripts also bore marks of ownership, the proliferation of printed books in Europe created a need to distinguish among multiple copies of the same title.
Particularly around the turn of the 20th century, bookplates were prized for their aesthetic value as miniature prints. With no intention of affixing them to books, individuals began to commission bookplates solely as a means to collect, organize, exhibit, and exchange them as works of art.
With an estimated one million individual specimens, dating from the 15th to the 21st century, the Yale Bookplate Collection is one of the largest such collections in the world. In addition to bookplates, the collection includes a variety of archival and published materials. Examples of the types of bookplate-related primary sources available for research and study include:
Bookplates are not only miniature works of art but microcosms of many different histories. These objects may be examined and interpreted through lenses such as: