PHILADELPHIA, September 7, 2016—The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia presents The Art of Ownership: Bookplates and Book Collectors from 1480 to the Present, on view September 21, 2016 - January 17, 2017. The primary function of a bookplate is simply to indicate the owner of a book, yet book collectors across the centuries have commissioned ornate and evocative designs that do more than designate property. From coats of arms and etched portraits to scenes of libraries and fantastical creatures, these miniature artworks may reveal a great deal about the ancestry, occupation, artistic taste, or philosophy of the men and women who used and circulated them.
The Art of Ownership features beautiful and curious specimens from five centuries of books in the Rosenbach's collection, along with examples from the Rare Book Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia, the University of Delaware’s William Augustus Brewer Bookplate Collection, and other regional repositories. Notable bookplates include the oldest known printed bookplate, a hand-colored woodcut circa 1480; bookplates from the personal libraries of King George III and Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt; an Irish landscape designed by Jack Butler Yeats; and prints by Art Nouveau illustrator Aubrey Beardsley. Some bookplates offer whimsical portraits of the book collectors: William Keeney Bixby's bookplate depicts the owner as an octopus grasping books with all eight tentacles, and a lithographic print belonging to E. Norman Sabel depicts an attentive reader who has not noticed that his coattails are on fire. Several remarkable examples belonged to Philadelphian collectors, such as Harry Elkins Widener and Lucy Wharton Drexel.
The Art of Ownership was made possible by 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.
To learn more about the Art of Ownership exhibition, visit rosenbach.org.