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Bookplates: From Doodle to Art

ex librisAn obsolete piece in the times of electronic publications, a bookplate was designed by an artist, usually on commission, to show ownership of a book. With a sketch, caption, or both relating to the owner, the bookplate or “ex libris” generally consists of an image  followed by an inscription such as “from the books of…” or “from the library of…” the name of the owner.

Pinboards of virtual bookplate collections are popular on Pinterest: Bookplates of Celebrities  (such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Rudyard Kipling, Walt Disney, and more) or other bookplates. There are plenty of bookplates to read about in blogs (e.g., Theodore Roosevelt, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and more), and browse on Flickr.  However, Carl Junge’s book Ex libris, a collection of original book-plate design, may give a hint that there might be even more to the popularity of bookplates than art itself.

No shame in admitting that I jumped on the bandwagon to share with the world my favorite ex libris ever, alcohol researcher E. M. Jellinek’s monkey-Hamlet-thinker, in the Newsletter of the Center of Alcohol Studies (CAS) Library in 2013.

Jellinek's bookplateDiscovered accidentally among a stack of unrelated documents in the Mark Keller Collection at the Center of Alcohol Studies Archives in 2012, the yellowing image symbolizes the big EMJ-mystery, referring to the adventurous life of E. M. Jellinek, one of the founders of alcohol science. An unorthodox 4×5-inch ex libris marked with the initials E.M.J. features a perplexed ape contemplating a human skull while sitting on a book entitled “Darwin.”

The original sculpture often attributed to Francisco Ramo, reflecting on Rodin’s Thinker and Darwin’s evolution theory, was very popular in the 20th century, and replicas show up for sale all over the Internet. However, the “Philosophizing Monkey Statuette”, as it’s also known, was actually created by a late-19th-century German sculptor Wolfgang Hugo Rheinhold. This bronze statuette, entitled Affe, einen Schädel betrachtend (“Monkey contemplating a skull”), was first exhibited at the Große Berliner Kunstaustellung (Great Berlin Art Exhibition) in 1893.

The bookplate replaces the word “Evolution” with “Darwin,” and the book in the front reads “EX LIBRIS E.M.J.” in block capitals. The sketch was drawn by Vera Efron, who ran the indexing and abstracting services at the Yale Center of Alcohol Studies, later the Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies.

A talented artist, she illustrated seminal books and pamphlets of early alcohol studies, such as Alcohol Explored by Howard Haggard and E. M. Jellinek, and Drinking and intoxication by Raymond McCarthy. Her doodles and artwork show up in various archival documents, including her famous sketches of E. M. Jellinek and Mark Keller.









More on bookplates from Rutgers Libraries:

  • Almack, E. (n.d.). Bookplates. In Bookplates. Project Gutenberg.
    A great overview of the history of various styles and sources, along with a collection of examples ranging from early bookplates, such as by Albrecht Dürer and other German artists, to modern bookplates.
  • Junge, C. S. (Carl Stephen)., Goble, L. Truman. (1935). Ex libris. New York: H. L. Lindquist.
    A collection of beautiful bookplates. Available in print from Special Collections or online.
  • Gadsdon, J. (1976). Something personal: a short essay on bookplates. The Australian Library Journal, 410–411.
    A very short essay introducing the reader to the beauty of bookplates.
  • Severin, M., & Reid, A. (1972). Engraved bookplates: European ex libris 1950-70. Private Libraries Association.
    A treasure trove of beautiful 20th-century bookplates with a variety of European examples.

More on E. M. Jellinek: