Archives Month: Bookplates and Book Collectors at the Rosenbach

[posted on behalf of Hillary Kativa]

Bookplate special, comin’ right up! This year, as part of Archives Month Philly, several institutions hosted ongoing exhibitions, including the Rosenbach Museum and Library. “The Art of Ownership: Bookplates and Book Collectors from 1480 to the Present” is currently open through January 15, 2017 and boasts over 85 bookplates from the Rosenbach’s own collections, as well as treasures from the Free Library of Philadelphia, the University of Delaware, and the Library Company of Philadelphia, among others.

a display case full of books open to their bookplates

The exhibition primarily focuses on the so-called “golden age” of bookplates, which lasted from approximately 1890 to 1940. During this period, vast new wealth and a rising interest in book-collecting, especially among Americans, spurred increased demand and greater diversity; notably, American interest helped bookplates blossom as an artform, as the focus shifted from depicting noble arms to a wealth of creative imagery chronicling the interests of the owner.    


Offering a deep dive into the imagery and symbolism of bookplates, the exhibition is divided into five main areas of focus: Knights and Nobility; Industrialists and Intellectuals; Artists, Authors, and Aesthetes; Americana; and Philadelphia Connections. The Knights and Nobility section features the oldest known bookplate in the Western world, that of Hilprand Brandenburg of Biberach dated circa 1480. Other notable bookplates include Charlie Chaplin and Walt Disney (whose bookplate featured Mickey Mouse – who else?), as well as Presidents and First Ladies including George Washington and Theodore, Franklin, and Eleanor Roosevelt. My personal favorite was the bookplate for Alfred Rigling, a former librarian at the Franklin Institute who is depicted, appropriately enough, as a bookworm.


Like the Rosenbach itself, “The Art of Ownership” is a must-see for booklovers – don’t miss your chance to catch the exhibit before it closes on March 15th!     

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