Book Plates or Ex Libris

This article links back to an introductory post for Pre-1600 Uses for Prints.

Book plates have always been something of which I’ve been quite fond (not really very surprising). Quite recently, a close friend of mine expressed some sadness that book plates (or Ex Libris) were post-1600, so it gave us both joy for me to show her that this wasn’t the case.

The concept of Ex Libris must go hand in hand with the concept of being able to own enough books to warrant having a book plate especially executed and printed for you. Previous to the development of printing, and the application of printing to the production of books, it would appear that the usual way of showing ownership would be to inscribe the owner’s name inside it.

There appears to be a reasonably strong connection between the development of the Ex Libris and the development of the personal library beyond the limits of the nobility or the very wealthy, with the rise of the book made using moveable type being more affordable to more people. Given that the earliest development of this printing occurred in German, it’s not very surprising that the earliest extant book plates are found there as well.

One of the earliest is for Johannes (Hans) Knabensberg, with an image of a hedgehog and the inscription “Hanns Igler das dich ein Igel küss” which translates as “Hans Igler, that the hedgehog may kiss you” – a graphic pun based on Knabensberg’s nickname, Igler, which is similar to the German word for hedgehog (igel). Perhaps a kiss from a prickly hedgehog would await those who didn’t return a borrowed book? Some speculate that this could have been produced as early as the 1450’s, whilst others believe that it probably dates to a little later in the century, given that printed book production was still in its early days mid-century.

 

Ex libris design for Johannes Knabensberg woodcut c1450

Ex Libris of Johannes Knabensberg
Artist unknown
Woodcut 143 x 210 mm
Germany c1450

 

It contrasts with other extant Ex Libris from around the same time, which are mostly based on heraldic charges.

 

Bookplate of Radigunda Eggenberger widow of George Junkers Gossenprot Artist unknown Coloured woodcut 1480

Ex Libris of Radigunda Eggenberger, widow of George Junkers Gossenprot
Artist unknown
Coloured woodcut
Germany c1480

 

Bookplate arms of alliance of Wilhelm Zell and Dorothea of ​​Rehlinger Artist unknown Woodcut c1480

Ex Libris arms of alliance of Wilhelm Zell and Dorothea of ​​Rehlinger
Artist unknown
Woodcut
Germany c1480

 

Bookplate of Hildebrandus Brandenburg Artist unknown Coloured woodcut c1490

Ex Libris of Hildebrandus Brandenburg
Artist unknown
Coloured woodcut
Germany c1490

 

Bookplate of Telamonius of Limberger called Frater Tillmanus Artist unknown Woodcut 1498

Ex Libris of Telamonius of Limberger, called Frater Tillmanus
Artist unknown
Woodcut
Germany 1498

 

Albrecht Dürer Bookplate for Willibald Pirckheimer Woodcut c1502 image 153 x 12 mm

Ex Libris for Willibald Pirckheimer
Albrecht Dürer
Woodcut image 153 x 12 mm
Nuremburg c1502

 

The popularity of Ex Libris begins to grow in German regions towards the end of the 15th and the beginning of the 16th century. Artists such as Albrecht Durer are commissioned to design and execute book plates. Durer produces quite a number, including several for the same patron over a number of years. The first extant Ex Libris with a date as part of the design (1516) is one such by Durer.

 

Albrecht Dürer Bookplate of Hieronymus Ebner Woodcut Germany 1516 128 × 97 mm

Ex Libris of Hieronymus Ebner
Albrecht Dürer
Woodcut 128 × 97 mm
Germany 1516

 

Albrecht Durer Bookplate for Willibald Pirckheimer 1524

Ex Libris for Willibald Pirckheimer
Albrecht Durer
Engraving or etching 181 x 115 mm
Nuremburg 1524

 

Leonhard Beck Bookplate of Erasmus Strenberger Woodcut and letterpress 1518-1530

Ex Libris of Erasmus Strenberger
Leonhard Beck
Woodcut and letterpress
German 1518-1530

 

Around this time, Ex Libris appear to spread into neighbouring countries, with French examples being the next chronologically, and then other countries such as Spain and England. Both the intaglio and relief methods were used for production.

These are the earliest extant examples from French regions:

 

Bookplate of  Jacques Thiboust Lord of Quantilly Woodcut c1517

Ex Libris of Jacques Thiboust, Lord of Quantilly
Artist unknown
Woodcut
France c1517-20

 

Bookplate of Jean Bertaud De La Tour Blanche Woodcut 1529 image  80 x 57 mm with inscription 142 x 94 mm

Ex Libris of Jean Bertaud De La Tour Blanche
Artist unknown
Woodcut, image 80 x 57 mm, with text 142 x 94 mm
France 1529

 

Bookplate of Jacques Thiboust Woodcut 1543

Ex Libris of Jacques Thiboust, Lord of Quantilly
Artist unknown
Woodcut
France 1543

 

And these are the earliest known examples from Italy, Spain, and England. I find it intriguing that England, which had a very rich and early association with the printed book, would have become interested in Ex Libris so late, relatively speaking. On the other hand, we are talking extant examples – there may well be something earlier out there, waiting to be discovered.

 

Bookplate of Cesare dei Conti Gambara Woodcut Italy 1548

Ex Libris of Cesare dei Conti Gambara
Artist unknown
Woodcut
Italy 1548

 

Bookplate of Francisco de Tarafa Woodcut Spain 1553

Ex Libris of Francisco de Tarafa
Artist unknown
Woodcut
Spain 1553

 

Bookplate of Sir Nicholas Bacon 1574

Ex Libris of Sir Nicholas Bacon
Artist unknown
England 1574

 

And a final example – not the earliest, not the latest, and certainly not the most accomplished, but somehow very appealing in its awkwardness:

 

Bookplate of Conrad Wolfhart known as Lycosthènes Rouffach from Basel 1550 engraved on a soft metal lead or tin 110 x 75 mm

Ex Libris of Conrad Wolfhart, known as Lycosthènes Rouffach
Artist unknown
Engraving on a soft metal, possibly lead or tin 110 x 75 mm
Basel 1550

Advertisements