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There are two kinds of paper-based marks of ownership for books which have been used over the centuries: the bookplate and book label. A bookplate contains a printed design which is usually an engraving or an etching. It normally, but not always, incorporates the owner’s name or initials. It is printed on a piece of paper for insertion into a book or printed on a separate sheet of paper which is intended to be bound into the book. There are two main styles of bookplate: armorial (where the design incorporates a coat of arms) and pictorial (where the design incorporates a portrait, illustration, scene). A book label is a name ticket, which can be engraved or printed. As with a book plate, it is printed on a piece of paper for insertion into a book, or printed on a separate sheet of paper which is intended to be bound into the book.

The earliest bookplates and book labels were produced for German book owners in the 15th century. The first recorded printed bookplate in Britain is dated to 1574, and by the late 17th century armorial bookplates were widely used throughout the British Isles. The term ‘bookplate’ was first recorded in 1791. In the late 19th century and early 20th centuries pictorial bookplates became more common, more colourful and intricate, with major artists and designers being commissioned to produce eye-catching designs.

People began to collect individual bookplates and book labels in the 19th century, pasting them into albums. An Ex Libris Society was formed in London in 1891, followed a few years later by the Bookplate Exchange Club, which enabled collectors to purchase bookplates from one another. The Bookplate Society, founded in 1972, is now the main international society for collectors, bibliophiles and artists interested in bookplates.

The National Library’s bookplate collections consist mainly of one large collection of albums bequeathed to the Library in 1953 by a Scot, Dr John Henderson Smith. He was an eminent scientist who became a leading authority on plant pathology and virus diseases of plants. In his spare time, he was keen collector of bookplates, being a member of the Ex Libris Society and serving as the secretary of the Bookplate Exchange Club for 47 years. In addition to the Henderson Smith collection (shelfmark J.H.S.), in the last 100 years the Library has also acquired smaller collections of bookplates: the Stitt collection (Bkpl.2-4), the Lamb collection (Bkpl.5-22a) and the Culley collection (K.R.1.d). The Library occasionally does add to the existing bookplate collections.

In the second half of the 20th century Library staff compiled a hand-written and typescript paper slip catalogue of the c. 28,000 individual bookplates in the bookplate collections. The information available in this paper catalogue is now available in this dataset. The name or initials of the person or institution on the bookplate is recorded, along with title, profession (if included), design/style of bookplate, date (if included), geographical location associated with the owner (if included), notes relating to the bookplate and the Library shelfmark. Personal names in Latin have been changed to non-Latinised forms of the name, place names have been modernised wherever possible, with information on UK place names supplemented with details of county and/or unitary authority.

Bookplates pasted into actual books in the Library’s collections are not included in the dataset but are recorded in the Library’s main catalogue

Example page from the John Henderson Smith collection
Example page from the John Henderson Smith collection
Bookplate for Mrs Brown of Tiviot (Teviot) Row
Bookplate for Mrs Brown of Tiviot (Teviot) Row
Chippendale style bookplate for Charles Areskine (also spelled Erskine) of Alva, a Scottish Lawyer in the eighteenth century

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This data collection is made available as CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain.


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DOI: coming soon

Dataset creator: National Library of Scotland

Dataset publisher: National Library of Scotland

Publication year: 2024

Suggested citation: National Library of Scotland. National Library of Scotland catalogue of bookplates National Library of Scotland, 2024.