Posted on January 18, 2019
There is something very personal about the books that people collect. The books in my library tell a story about who I am, and also who I used to be. I have an emotional connection to my books. The Latin expression Ex Libris simply means “from the books of” and has been used for centuries to identify who owns the books, and also let borrowers know where to return them. Also known as Bookplates, these small posters tell large stories within their small footprint. The designs are reminiscent of logo designs in that they reflect the libraries, and people, who they were made for.
Bookplates date back to Egypitian times, but the first physical example is one from Germany made for Hilprand Brandenburg of Biberach. After the 1950’s, people began collecting bookplates. They spread from Germany all around Europe, and their diversity reflects the time and place that they came from.
It is enjoyable to look at bookplates from known figures because they tend to reflect the public image of the libraries they come from. Some people, such as Nelson Rockefeller, had many different ones–his collection included one designed by his friend Pablo Picasso.
Oliver Wendell Holmes’s bookplate has the Latin phrase “From breadth to depth”. Father to Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. the associate supreme court judge, he was an American physician, poet, and polymath based in Boston making his inscription seem very accurate.
The plates for artists are equally interesting, and sometimes deviate from their work.
The architect Grosvenor Goodhue’s bookplate introduces a man with pen and quill being reached for by a skeleton, a common theme in bookplates (including our own office design). A multi-talented designer, you can see his attention to detail in his design for the Los Angeles public library. He also was a typographer and notably designed the font Cheltenham.
The bookplates from the golden age of Hollywood reflect the famous public personas they represent. Looking through them you can get impressions of their tastes and what was important to them.
The offices bookplate contains the Latin phrase, “Ut conclave sine libris ita corpus sine anima” which means “A room without books is like a body without a soul”― Marcus Tullius Cicero. Books have such an important role in our lives and our history, and these bookplates seems to thank the books by touching them with the compliment of pride of ownership and the acknowledgement of the value we ascribe them.