In the age of e-books and digital libraries, the allure of physical books remains strong for many people. There is something captivating about holding a well-crafted book in your hands, especially one that tells a story beyond that of what is written on its pages. The History of Medicine Library holds many such texts in its collections, with scribbled notes, labels of ownership and the many bookplates of medical practitioners of past.
Bookplates are small, often ornate artworks that have a rich history and artistic value, now celebrated in our new bookplate exhibition, curated by paediatrician and public health physician Professor Mark Ferson.
Bookplates date back to the 15th century when the printing press enabled the creation of books on a larger scale. As libraries grew, it became necessary to label books to prevent theft. This marked the birth of bookplates, which started as simple marks but soon evolved into elaborate designs that reflected the owner's personality, interests, and social standing, typically an armorial. The Library holds many examples of armorials including one from the family of Charles Darwin.
Bookplates offer a visual treat - from intricate illustrations to detailed typography, each bookplate is a testament to the creativity of its designer as they strive to meet the brief of the owner. This exhibition showcases a diverse range of styles, spanning various periods. Some are adorned with delicate bird motifs, while others offer bold, abstract designs.
Beyond their artistic appeal, bookplates can be time capsules, often reflecting the lives and times of those individuals, offering insights into their intellectual pursuits and personal aspirations. The names inscribed on these labels might belong to doctors, scholars, or anonymous bibliophiles, but each label carries a connection to a unique human story.
In an era dominated by digitisation, this bookplate exhibition serves as a reminder of the tactile pleasure of physical books, highlighting the artistry of bookplate design and the value of the printed word. The companion exhibition to this online version is currently on display in the Fellows' Room of the College at 145 Macquarie St. Sydney. We invite all members to view in person until the end of the year.
And don't forget to view all our previous online exhibitions here