Ex Libris: Histories of Book Ownership from the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives
Closed on October 14, 2017
The books on view in “Ex Libris: Histories of Book Ownership from the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives” all contain markings that tell us something about their previous owners. Inscriptions, signatures, bookplates, labels, and notations allow us to identify these books’ former owners. These marks reveal something about a book’s past and remind us that a book is not just a text, but an object that was once cared for by someone else.
Handwritten names, paper ownership labels, and bookplates—sometimes called ex libris (Latin for “from the books of,” meaning from the library of)—often clearly identify a book’s former owners. Other types of evidence, such as inscriptions, show the transactional history of a book. They can tell us if the book was a gift, if it was purchased, or even if it passed down in a family. Notations go one step further by giving us a glimpse of the thoughts a book prompted in a previous reader. Provenance—the history of ownership—of the book connects us with readers who lived long ago. We remember the people who once held and read these books, in part, because of the marks they left.