The bookplate, or ex libris, has a long and distinguished history, dating back nearly to the beginning of modern printing. The first known bookplate, ca. 1450, belonged to Johannes Knabensberg (called Igler, which is German for hedgehog) and bears the inscription “Hans Igler das dich ein Igel kuss.” In English, the phrase translates as “Hans Igler, that the hedgehog may kiss you,” which is thought to be a warning from the owner against stealing his book.

Bookplates are a unique way of expressing one’s self and one’s ownership of books. They can take on a variety of forms and subject matter, and have been produced using a broad range of techniques. The most common of these techniques is engraving, either on wood or copper plates. An ex libris can be as simple as a label bearing only one’s name, or as complex as a heraldic coat of arms or an extremely detailed illustration. At the very least, an ex libris generally bears the name or initials of the book’s owner.

Ex libris are also highly collectible, and have been for over a century. Many bookplate societies and clubs exist which facilitate the exchange of ex libris between collectors. In fact, many collectors of ex libris commission plates specifically for exchange with other collectors. In this way, via commission and exchange, many great bookplate collections are born. This is most likely the way in which the bookplate collection at the Bruce Peel Special Collections Library was formed.

The library’s ex libris collection represents nearly 100 artists and over 300 unique plates from almost a dozen countries, and spans five decades, from the 1930s to the 1970s. Within the collection, there are multiple instances of bookplates belonging to the same person: in other words, one person has many plates which he or she has commissioned. Presumably, the Bruce Peel’s collection was compiled by someone who exchanged his or her bookplates with other collectors. The collector was likely Dutch, since the plates are annotated in Dutch and the folders in which the bookplates were stored are stamped with a Netherlands address. Likewise, a large percentage of the artists represented in the collection are Dutch. Also included are many Christmas and New Year’s greetings and other miscellaneous small prints.

How the Bruce Peel acquired this collection is, unfortunately, unknown, but it is a wonderful and, we think, representative example of such a collection. Every effort has been made to provide as much relevant information as was possible about each artist. There are many excellent resources, both in print and online, for those who are interested in studying the subject further.


  • Total records in database: 327
  • Total images in database: 990