This Book Belongs To..... Bookplates, Book Labels, & Inscriptions


Curated by Romilly Smith and Donald Kerr, Special Collections, University of Otago


December 2019


New Zealand’s Trinity of book collectors marked their books in different ways, thereby signifying ownership with the claim ‘This book is mine!’ Sir George Grey had no bookplate, inscribing his books rarely. Alexander Turnbull had ten different bookplates, one being a ‘rebus’ designed by the artist Walter Crane. Dr T.M. Hocken marked each book he owned many times, often using an Ex libris bookplate (which he was not allowed to carry); a ‘Hakena’ label, ink stamps, and his signature.
Marking ownership (provenance) by inserting bookplates, book labels, stamps or inscriptions into a book is part of a long tradition, begun in the period of the first printing presses (1450s), when multiple copies of books were produced. Book collectors started to amass libraries, either as a resource for their own intellectual pursuits, or just for show. It became chic to have a library, a collection of books and manuscripts. In later times, it was doubly chic to have a prominent artist design your bookplate.
Many of the first bookplates were based on coats of arms that many aristocrats and landed gentry had the right to bear. Mottoes dominated. As time progressed, and book collecting increased, an increasing number of owners did not have coats of arms to adorn their books. Consequently, they developed their own pictorial bookplates, often containing symbols or objects that reflected some personal aspect or interest. Traditionally, bookplates were engraved, or were produced through wood or linocuts. As the modern era progressed, the use of photography and colour has increased. Some book collectors are more circumspect. They use small, often unadorned labels, or specially made stamps, to affix in their books. Others just simply inscribed their name in their books.
Special Collections does not own a collection of bookplates like Auckland City Libraries with their Hilda Wiseman Collection, nor the Auckland Museum Library with its Percy Barnett Collection. Nevertheless, Special Collections has numerous bookplates, book labels, and inscriptions evident in the thousands of books held. On display is a small fraction of the total held, a wide variety of armorial, pictorial, and modern designs representing a wide range of book collectors. What is pleasing are the number of bookplates and labels representing female book collectors, who have traditionally not figured greatly in the field of book collecting. In addition, bookplate samples from the collection of Professor David Skegg have been included. They are particular to the South Island as they feature Otago and Southland bookplate owners.
In order to display more bookplates, far more smaller (octavo) format books and much less large format ones have been used. Often found pasted on the front endpaper, these individual design and provenance statements have their own distinct beauty. Please enjoy.


Special Collections, University of Otago

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