This guide presents an overview of bookplates and the Yale Bookplate Collection. In addition, it presents different search strategies for identifying bookplate materials and suggests several themes by which to explore these collections. It also lists 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 in the late 19th and early 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: