"Grolier Club Bookplates, Past & Present" Now Open

The art of the bookplate is alive and well among Grolier Club members—just as it has been for 130 years.

The functional purpose of the bookplate is simple: collectors paste the small pieces of paper or leather into their volumes to identify ownership and establish a trail of provenance. Yet for centuries, bookplates have also served as visual testaments to book collectors’ personalities, passions, and legacies. The ex libris is a relatively obscure art form. Its heyday lasted from roughly 1880 to 1950, but bookplate design, printing, and use remain central to many book collectors’ activities. The plates of past Grolier Club members rank as some of the finest examples of the art form, and many current Club members continue to commission and use bookplates. This exhibition links historic and contemporary bookplates to celebrate the continued vitality of the art form, both within and beyond the Grolier Club.

Bookplates are more than decorative embellishments. In many cases, thoughtful collectors work closely with artists and printers to design fitting testaments to their individual interests. Knowing that their bookplates will likely remain pasted into their treasured volumes for years to come, collectors use the art form to establish their legacy among future owners and readers. Each plate on exhibit exudes the character of its owner and the design savvy of its maker. 

The show is replete with hundreds of examples of the ex libris art form, each imbued with special meaning for maker, user, and viewer alike. “Grolier Club Bookplates, Past and Present” emphasizes the meaning behind the symbolism in the plates on display, and the artistic legacy of the artists who bring patrons’ dreams to fruition.

Drawn almost entirely from the Grolier Club's own collection, the exhibition begins with one of the Grolier Club’s own bookplates, then moves to parallel bookplates of past members from the 1880s through the 1990s with the bookplates of nearly sixty current members. Notable designers include such famous artists as Walter Crane, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Lucien Pizarro, Eric Gill, Rockwell Kent, and Leonard Baskin, whose works are shown alongside that of the two most famous American masters of the bookplate genre in the early twentieth century, Edwin Davis French and Sidney Lawton Smith. There are bookplates printed by William Morris's Kelmscott Press, the Merrymount Press of Daniel Berkeley Updike, and the Spiral Press of Joseph Blumenthal. More recent typographers and calligraphers represented include Leo Wyatt, Will and Sebastian Carter, Reynolds Stone, Sheila Waters, Jerry Kelly, and Russell Maret, among others. A highlight is the original drawing—unpublished and never before exhibited—by Maurice Sendak for the bookplate of bookseller and collector Justin C. Schiller.

GALLERY HOURS: The exhibition is open to the public, free of charge, Monday-Saturday 10 am-5 pm through January 14, 2017. We will be closed Thursday and Friday, November 24-25, for the Thanksgiving Holiday, and December 24-31 for the Winter Holidays.

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