Saturday, February 25, 2012

In the Library: Marks of Ownership

Where: National Gallery of Art Library, East Building

When: through April 27, 2012

Yet another exhibit in the National Gallery's library, yet another opportunity to wish I worked there.  I'm sure it's like any workplace: full of tedium, punctuated by meaningless drama, but to the casual visitor, it seems an idyllic escape from the outside world.

The current exhibit deals with bookplates - those things you stick in a book to indicate that it belongs to you.  I'm sure I once received some bookplates (if I remember correctly, they featured a cat), but I don't know that I've ever used them.

Bookplates came into use with the invention of movable type.  Owners had to find a way to show that particular copies of books belonged to them.  Bookplates were the most popular way to do this, although some people bound the books in a particular way to show they were part of the owner's collection.  Edward Minman Martin, Esq. pasted an engraving of himself in the front cover - no need to worry another Edward Minman Martin might make off with his property.

I found out that a book's provenance can be more difficult to establish than that of a work of art, and bookplates can be quite helpful to the researcher in determining who has owned a book.  Among the pieces on display, one book contains a bookplate indicating it belonged to Edith Wharton and several bookplates included verses with warnings to thieves.  There were also some library-themed bookplates, not much of a stretch, but one even included an engraving of a librarian.

Verdict: A small show, easily seen in a lunch hour, and quite interesting if you like books.

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