EX LIBRIS (Bookplate)

 A secret bond of affection between the book and its owner

José Miguel Valderrama


EX LIBRIS is a print of small dimensions which is pasted on the inside back cover of a book or its binding having the purpose of revealing the book's onwership. The Dictionary of the Real Academia Española de la Lengua  defines the word as "a label or engraved stamp which is stuck on the inside back cover of the books, bearing the name of its owner or of the Library to which it belongs".  






Artist: Herminia  Horwath (B) C4

Bookplates can be executed by any of the traditional means of printing (woodcut, wood engraving, intaglio, lithography and silk-screen) or through the new technologies (photo-mechanical methods, computer design, braille, etc.), bearing one or more images, formerly heraldic and nowadays predominantly pictorial with a symbolic or allegoric nature, and the Latin word ex libris or its equivalent followed by the name of the owner. The _expression " Ex Libris" comes from  the Latin- "ex" - meaning origin or from and -"libris" - the plural of "liber", "books". Its meaning as a noun in modern European languages - EX LIBRIS - is then  "from the books of..." and by extension "book of..." or "book belonging to... ".  The first Spanish author dealing with bookplates was Don Mariano Pardo de Figueroa, better known as Dr. Thebussem, in 1875. In 1891, the French author Henri Bouchon in his book "Les Ex Libris et les marques de possession du Livre", offered a poetic definition of the bookplate "the oldest mark of men's sincere love for its literary property. It is the coat of arms of the spirit, a beautiful and original manner of showing ownership which has no other explanation than the love for the books.".



The first known mark of book ownership the direct ancestor of the ex libris, is a small clay plate gilded in blue, bearing hieroglyphic inscriptions, kept at the British Museum and which belonged to Pharaoh Amenhotep III (s. 15 b C). It was used as a mark of ownership and was placed inside the papyrus roll boxes belonging to the Pharaoh. Also the scribes from Mesopotamia at the end of their writings used to state the name of the owner, apart from the title, the date and the name of the copyist. 

Artist: Martín Oliete (E)  C3 C5

During the Middle Ages, bookplates were hand written inscriptions made by monks in codices, bibles, beatus, Books of Hours, books of chivalry, feudal books, privileges etc., showing the ownership of those works. But the ex libris as we know them today did not really begun till the invention of the print in 1440. The possibility of multiplying the number of books edited enabled the adoption of " the typographical procedure and even the primitive xylographic technique in the production of labels or prints capable of being pasted in the back cover of bindings or in the front pages books, thus becoming the ultimate form of marking the ownership of a book”. In this first stage of the bookplate the predominant is heraldic until it was gradually replaced by allegoric motifs in the 18th century. The techniques used vary from xylography during the 15th and 16th centuries, the intaglio in the 17th and 18th  centuries to lithography, silkscreen and photoengraving in the 19th century. Initially the production of bookplates was relatively scarce till reaching the transition from the 19th and  20th centuries, when it occurs a boom in bookplate creations coinciding with Modernism or «Art Nouveau» and much favored by the Industrial Revolution.

    Artist: Yoko Ohira (JAP)  C3

One of the consequences of economic development was that culture ceased to be the exclusive patrimony of Nobility and the Clergy and pompous heraldry which had been the main motif of bookplates was replaced by allegoric motifs related with liberal professions, hobbies or simply with the likings of the new bourgeoisie who begun to own libraries. Around 1900 the first bookplate Societies were created and people witnessed  the birth of the Collector the real founding stone of exlibrism or bookplate loving. Throughout the 20th century books and specialized magazines were published, congresses and exhibitions were held  and the creation of bookplates passes to the hands of Artists who  raised the quality of the engraving traditional techniques. Since then, bookplates, which initially were only used to proclaim the ownership of the books,  have become a means of aesthetic expression undertaking an evolution which led to the rank of real miniature works of art, object of collection and of exchange at international level.