Past exhibition: The Art of Ownership: Bookplates and Book Collectors from 1480 to the Present

Bookplates and Book Collectors from 1480 to the Present
From 09/21/2016 to 03/19/2017

The primary function of a bookplate is very simple: to indicate the owner of a book. But these small works of art communicate many more implicit and explicit messages about their owners, including ancestry, occupation, interests, artistic tastes, and philosophy. They can also help modern readers trace the history of individual volumes. The Art of Ownership presents notable bookplates from five centuries in books from the Rosenbach’s collections and consider what they add to the objects’ stories. The exhibition will also look at the colorful characters who created and used the bookplates, and examine how book enthusiasts make and use them today. In addition to the detailed stories of the featured bookplates, the exhibition will present a wider range of digitized examples from the University of Delaware’s extensive William Augustus Brewer Bookplate Collection.

Notable examples include:

  • The earliest documented printed bookplate-dating from before 1480-with the coat of arms of Hilprand Brandenburg of Biberach
  • Occupations: composer Jerome Kern’s art deco lyre, Dr. Stoughton Vogel’s plate with its motto “What do we know?”, and Philip Sassoon’s merchant ship
  • Portraits of collectors: William Harris Arnold surrounded by the spirits of his favorite authors; William K. Bixby as an octopus gathering in books with all eight arms
  • Portraits of library spaces, often with the owner hidden in a chair reading. One plate depicts a gentleman so intent on his book that he doesn’t notice his coat-tails have caught fire.
  • Plates by noted artists: Harry Widener’s plate by Walter Crane, featuring a reading woman accompanied by studious and not-so-studious putti; an Irish landscape by Jack B. Yeats for the Irish-American collector John Quinn


The Art of Ownership was made possible with a grant from the Pine Tree Foundation of New York and endowment grants from the Marilyn M. Simpson Trust and the National Endowment for the Humanities.