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What is a Bookplate

A BOOKPLATE or "EX-LIBRIS" has been, from early times, a marker placed on the inside of the front cover of a book denoting ownership. "Ex-Libris", is Latin that literally translates to "FROM THE BOOKS OF." The bookplate, then, is simply a mark of possession. In early times the design was usually of something significant that people would know the owner by, mainly because most people could not read.

The earliest bookplates ranged in age the following way: Germany-1480; English-1520; France-1574; Sweden-1575; Switzerland-1607; Italy-1623 and America-1642.[1]

English parliamentarian Samuel Pepys, writing on July twenty-first, 1668, says, 'Went to my plate-maker's, and there spent an hour about contriving my little plates, for my books of the King's four Yards.'[2]

Robert Littlewood, convener of The Australian Bookplate Design Award, says these sometimes elaborate labels are teeming with secrets and information about their owners – their passions, personalities, even their physique. He calls them "windows into untold histories".[3] While visiting well known artist Pro Hart, Robert Littlewood asked about a bookplate for himself and was given one titled "Ants" that was done that day. [4].

In amongst the famous Australian artists to have painted or created personalized bookplates for famous people, politicians and the general public alike are: Norman Lindsay and his brother Lionel Lindsay, Brett Whiteley, Irena Sibley along with husband Andrew Sibley and son Ben, Pixie O'Harris and Ballarat's Melinda Muscat. [5] [6]

Bookplates have been around for a long time, and will continue to do so, as long as book owners desire an individualized way of telling others who owns "The Book".

Australian Bookplate Design Award

The Keith Wingrove Memorial Trust conducts a competition among Australian artists, graphic designers and students for the production of Ex Libris Bookplates. The competition is called The Australian Bookplate Design Award. The purpose of the competition is to increase interest in and to attract publicity to the artistic value of bookplates. Although the competition is referred to as 'Australian' there is a category of award open to International artists.

Federation University Bookplate Collection

Thanks to the generosity of the Keith Wingrove Memorial Trust the Federation University Bookplate Collection is comprehensive. Bookplates can be searched via two sources:

1. Bookplates submitted into the Australian Bookplate Awards -

2. Historic bookplates, often still adhered inside books -


  2. Source: Bookplates for Beginners by Alfred Fowler - copyright 1921.

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