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‘Ex Libris’ exhibit showcases the art and history behind bookplate tradition

May 25, 2010

Bookplate and printing plate made for President Woodrow Wilson on display in Leatherby Libraries.

If you were the sort of kid who scrawled your name in red crayon on the inside flaps of your favorite books so everyone knew they were YOURS, you’re going to love a new exhibit at Leatherby Libraries.

Bookplates, those little labels pasted into the front of books to indicate ownership, are celebrated in a new exhibit titled “Ex Libris: Selections from the Arellanes Bookplate Collection,” on display in the Frank Mt. Pleasant Library of Special Collections & Archives, fourth floor of Leatherby.

Unlike children’s territorial squiggles, these ex libris, their Latin name, which many collectors prefer to use, are examples of fine art and craftsmanship from the collection of the late Audrey Spencer Arellanes. Arellanes was a bookplate expert who amassed an extraordinary collection and literally wrote the book on bookplates, Bookplates: a Selective Annotated Bibliography of the Periodical Literature. Leatherby recently purchased the collection as part of its continuing efforts to collect artifacts related to the history of printing, including fine letterpress printing.

The Arellanes collection includes 1,500 foreign and domestic bookplates and proof plates, including many signed copies, variant printings and armorials.  The collection also features 62 assorted copper, zinc and metal printing plates as well as a library of 237 titles.  Within the collection there is even an assortment of erotica bookplates.

“For a researcher interested in the culture of bookplates, the collection has very nice breadth and depth due to (Arellanes’) active interest in foreign plates and writers on this particular art form,” says Randolph Boyd, special collections and archives librarian for the Frank Mt. Pleasant Library.

Woe to the hapless reader who borrows a book from sharp-shooting Tom Mix.

But even non-experts will appreciate the beauty of the bookplates, highly crafted little works of art most often employed by the wealthy or important. In the collection are elegant examples from Eleanor Roosevelt, Clarence Darrow and President Woodrow Wilson, as well as a whimsical ranch-style bookplate used by Western film star Tom Mix that warns against straying off the ranch with his books.

The exhibit is on display through summer during the special exhibitions room’s summer hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Lew Jaffe permalink
    May 26, 2010 3:59 am

    Has a catalog been prepared for the exhibit?

    • Rand Boyd permalink
      May 26, 2010 8:37 am


      No, I am afraid not. This initial exhibit is relatively small (three cases) and there wasn’t a budget for one on this scale. I am hoping to have a catalog for our next one that will concentrate on a single sub collection.

      If you have any more questions, please feel free to e-mail me or come by Special Collections.

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