The American Society of Bookplate Collectors & Designers

by James P. Keenan, Director, ASBCD

What is a Bookplate? 

Since the mid-fifteenth century, distinguished artists and their patrons have given serious attention to this art form. A bookplate represents pride in the ownership of books. It is a miniature graphic art print developed to adorn books providing a convenient, individualized way for the book’s owner to be identified. The bookplate, or ex libris, is a label generally affixed to the inside front cover of a book. 

Bookplates have been designed by artists and engravers such as Albrecht Dürer, Thomas Bewick, Paul Revere, Kate Greenaway, Aubrey Beardsley, Maxfield Parrish, Marc Chagall, Paul Klee, M.C. Escher, Rockwell Kent, Leonard Baskin, Barry Moser, and others. Many are acknowledged for their work as book illustrators and designers. A bookplate should always be an example of fine printing. 

The owners of bookplates are a distinguished group as well. We find that Queen Victoria of Great Britain owned a bookplate, as did George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Charles DeGaulle. Other famous people include: Harpo Marx, James Cagney, Sigmund Freud, Walt Disney, J.P. Morgan, Jack London, and the list goes on. 

On Collecting: Building World Friendships Through the Exchange of Art 

Bookplate collecting began more than a century ago and interest has spread to many nations of the world. Unique to this art form alone, most collections are built through the exchange of duplicate pieces. This is accomplished when collectors have one or several personal designs made for the purpose of trading with others. The goal is to increase the size and scope of their holdings. Most often these collections are organized according to artist, theme, technique, country and/or period. Many enthusiasts have amassed vast numbers of ex libris, even some collections numbering the hundreds of thousands. Through donation and exchange the ASBC&D has built a significant collection of books and ex libris prints. 

Ex libris collectors have created an international network for the purposes of attaining designs by establishing societies in over forty nations. Through participation in these societies worldwide friendships will grow. Every two years an International Ex Libris Congress is held in a different country inviting members of the world bookplate societies to attend. Under the auspices of FISAE (The International Federation of Ex-libris Societies) one enjoys illustrated talks, exhibitions and sufficient time is allowed for socializing and trading bookplates. This provides endless opportunities for artists and collectors to acquaint themselves with the interest and enthusiasm for this art form throughout the world. In addition, every year hundreds of artists and collectors meet overseas to exchange and commission ex libris prints. 


In the United States, the American Society of Bookplate Collectors and Designers (ASBC&D) was organized in 1922 to further the study and collecting of bookplates. Today, the ASBC&D membership includes more than 150 individuals and 50 institutions. The purposes of the ASBC&D as stated in the first Year Book are: “To cultivate the spirit of friendship and mutual helpfulness among collectors and designers of bookplates; and to assist in the further development of the bookplate.” This is accomplished by the publication of the Year Book, quarterly newsletter, exchange lists, competitions, exhibitions, & illustrated talks. There are many foreign ex libris associations with whom the Society corresponds and exchanges publications. 

Along with Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand and the Ira Block Foundation in Cincinnati, Ohio we sponsor annual global competitions to stimulate the interest in contemporary bookplates. The competitions give us the opportunity to publish illustrated books that include biographical data and contact information for the artists. We also build in-person and online exhibitions. For information, please write.

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