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Ex Libris: Bookplates From Around the World

International Languages Department, Central Library,
two bookplates
Left: "Should you fail to return this book, the Argus eye at you will look." Ex Libris Jean-Lysbeth Argus. Right: Bookplate for the Los Angeles Public Library.

During the Middle Ages and the early modern era, owning a book was a rare and precious thing.

Reserved only for the very wealthy, books were expensive, prestigious, and showed a certain status in society. If you were rich enough to own books, you wanted to make sure that anyone seeing them knew the books were yours.

Enter the ex libris (Latin for “from the books of…”), or bookplate. The earliest known examples come from Germany around the 15th century and were designed by famous artists of the time. They were pasted inside the front cover and often incorporated a name, motto, or coat of arms to better identify the book’s owner.

The library's Bookplate Collection contains over 1,300 bookplates and includes a wide variety of graphic and illustrative styles, both color and black & white, ranging from the formal to the whimsical.


Color plate of a woman with butterfly wings, standing under a trellis, holding open a book.


Black and white plate of an owl holding a magic lamp with its beak.


Purple and gold plate with an inset of a young page blowing a horn, surrounded by gold scrolls on a purple base.


Black and white plate of the tree of knowledge with a candle at each side and an open book at its base.


Black and white plate of a teddy bear holding a banner with the letter B on it over a row of books.

If you would like to learn more about ex libris, we invite you to visit Central Library on Sunday, April 22 at 1:30 p.m. for a presentation on bookplates from around the world by writer and bookplate collector Ruben Angaladian.

This video offers a glimpse into some of the ex libris collected by Ruben Angaladian on display at International Languages Department.

Recommended Reading

Ex libris y bibliotecas de Mexico
Teixidor, Felipe.

Ex libris y marcas de fuego
Torre Villar, Ernesto de la.

Lada Novak popisny seznam jeho ex libris
Novak, Lada.

Ex libris und signete, 1922-1928
Scherzer, Conrad, 1893-1965.

French book-plates
Hamilton, Walter, 1844-1899.

Engraved bookplates: European ex libris 1950-70
Severin, Mark F.

Rockwell Kent: the art of the bookplate
Roberts, Don (Don E.).

American book-plates, a guide to their study with examples
Allen, Charles Dexter, 1865-1926.

A guide to the study of book-plates (ex-libris)
Warren, John Byrne Leicester, Baron de Tabley, 1835-1895.

Journal of the Ex Libris Society