For centuries, book collectors have written their names and pasted ownership labels inside their prized volumes. Sometimes these marks were removed or defaced when the books changed hands; at other times they went untouched and new marks were added, allowing layers of ownership history to build up.

The rare books in Special Collections, acquired through donation, bequest and purchase over the past 130 years, contain a wealth of such provenance evidence and the bookplates, labels and stamps in this digital exhibition are just a selection of those that remain between their boards.

The exhibition items range from the early 18th Century to the mid-20th Century and include engraved armorial bookplates that bear an owner’s name and coat of arms, pictorial plates with designs that reveal an owner’s interests or tastes and labels and stamps that display only a name or initials. They represent book owners from New Zealand, Britain, Australia, the United States and some European countries.

Known also as ex libris or `from the books’ in Latin, bookplates have been used for around 500 years, attracting the talents of major artists such as Albrecht Dürer in the 16th Century, Frank Brangwyn in the 20th Century and a host of lesser-known and anonymous engravers and artists in between. For aficionados, one plate was often not enough. Patrick Lawlor, a local bibliophile, author and founding member of the New Zealand Ex Libris Society, commissioned some seven plates. In 1954 he wrote in Books and Bookmen, “The surest way of acquiring a love for books and a library of your own is to secure the services of a good artist and have him design for you a bookplate.”

Each of these artefacts can shed light on a period in a particular book’s history before it reached Special Collections. They can also provide insights for a range of researchers, including those interested in bookplates, private libraries, print and art history, the transmission of texts and the development of Special Collections.

To locate other books in Special Collections containing bookplates, labels or stamps, click here.

The digital reproductions on this site, produced from materials held by The University of Auckland Library, may be protected by copyright and are provided only for private study and research under the provisions of the Copyright Act 1994. [Their copyright status may differ in other countries]. Further distribution or commercial use of the works from this site is not permitted without the written permission of the Library or named copyright holders. If you believe you are a copyright holder and have not been properly acknowledged, please contact us.

Labels & Stamps