GLENCOE, IL (August 12, 2014) – Decorative illustrations on the inside front cover of books, known as bookplates, have been used around the world for centuries to declare ownership of book collections. A new rare book exhibition at the Chicago Botanic Garden explores these intricate works of art from personal and institutional libraries as well as from a private collection. The display, Ex Libris: Bookplates Through the Ages, runs from Friday, August 15, through Sunday, November 9, 2014, in the Lenhardt Library.
The invention of the Gutenberg press in 1450 made printing in large quantities possible, but books remained very expensive. Book owners used bookplates to ensure the safe return of their property and to show off their wealth. Many hired artists to create or design personal bookplates, also known as ex libris, Latin for “from the books of,” to identify ownership. A family’s coat of arms was often used to show prestige, while other bookplates used symbolism or humor.
The Ex Libris exhibition features fascinating bookplates that span many centuries and range from simple designs to lavish artistic expressions. Among these rare works of art is the earliest recorded bookplate belonging to a woman, Rachel Bourchier, Countess Dowager of Bath, from 1671. Her bookplates can also be seen at Trinity College in Dublin and the College Library of St. John’s College at the University of Cambridge. Other notable bookplates on display originate from the libraries of philosopher and essayist Thomas Carlyle, novelist Anthony Trollope and novelist Charles Dickens.
A free library talk on Ex Libris will take place at 2 p.m. on Saturday, September 20. Ex Libris: Bookplates Through the Ages is generously supported by the Harriet Kay and Harold R. Burnstein Fund for Exhibits.