For as long as either manuscript or printed books have been collected into private and institutional libraries, some means of labeling them with an owner’s name has been sought. Bookplates are one means which have survived the test of time: they provide a versatile little canvas into which a book’s owner can project much of his or her self-image through carefully chosen quotations, mottoes, or illustrations.
The bookplates found inside the front covers of tens of thousands of books in Knox’s Seymour Library are an invaluable history of both the book collectors who have given their personal libraries to Knox College and of benefactors who have established endowments either to purchase books on particular subjects or to honor the memory of someone near to them. Some of the bookplates are plain, some of them are fancy, but all of them continue to link their donor’s good intentions with the academic missions of the college and its library.
In the 19th and early 20th century, many large private libraries in both England and America were sold at auction. Individual volumes -- many still bearing the book plates of their wealthy former owners -- made their way into academic and public libraries through the used book trade. The bookplates remain as valuable evidence of a book’s travels from place to place, from century to century.
Personal bookplates are far less common today than they were before World War II. Customized bookplates like those exhibited here are virtually unknown. We have a much more casual attitude toward books now that they have been easily available and inexpensive for many generations: we focus almost exclusively on them as texts and care little about their bindings or for details such as bookplates and endpapers. This is the first in an annual series of exhibits which will attempt to recover some of the pride once taken in these book-related arts and crafts and the pleasure derived from them by millions of readers.
Case One: Ruth Thomson Saunders
Galesburg native Ruth Thomson operated the Saunders Studio Press with her husband Lynne Saunders in the 1920’s and ‘30’s in Claremont, California. Among the imprints issued by the press were titles on bookplates, a particular interest of Ms. Saunders. The bookplates exhibited here are representative of the dozens of plates which she designed and printed for friends and libraries in southern California.
Case Two: Irene Dwen Pace
If Irene Dwen Pace collected books half as aggressively as she collected her own bookplates, she had a sizable library. Perhaps due to the travel which inevitably accompanied her husband’s military career, she met many artists throughout her life. She seems to have been unable to resist asking them to design bookplates for her and her family. A collection of at least some of them has made its way to our library.
Links about bookplates