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Abele, Barbara | Special Collections & University Archives

Name: Abele, Barbara


Historical Note:

Bookplates, labels indicating ownership pasted inside the front cover of a book, probably originated in Germany in the mid-15th century. The earliest dated bookplate still in existence was created in 1516, and is also German. In North America the earliest known bookplate, dated 1674, was found in colonial New England, while the earliest example created by an American engraver dates from 1749.

Many themes and motifs can be identified in bookplate creation throughout history. Pictorial bookplates include portraits, images of books, views of libraries, and various landscapes. Early armorial bookplates in 16th-century England consisted of a simple unornamented shield, symmetrically mantled helmet, crest, and scroll where the owner's name was usually inscribed. Allegorical bookplates were popular in France during the reign of Louis XV and in England by the mid-18th century. Personifications of the Christian cardinal virtues and other abstract ideas, such as truth, justice, wisdom, hope, and faith usually appeared on bookplates from this period, as well as symbols of the interests and occupations of the book's owner, such as the scales of justice, and naval and military trophies. Toward the end of the 19th century, German designers began to use nude figures as a major motif in bookplate design. This fashion was followed in the rest of Europe and the United States, where figures were treated naturalistically, sometimes with erotic intent.

A variety of methods can be used to make bookplates. As in the past, the majority of bookplates created today are printed. The plates used for making printed labels may be prepared by any photomechanical processes, such as zinc etching. For finer plates the design may be engraved by hand on steel or etched into copper.

Barbara Abele was a long-time collector and researcher of bookplates. She was the niece of Fridolf Johnson, author of the book A Treasury of Bookplates from the Renaissance to the Present, still considered the best modern introduction to the study of bookplates, and spent her life in Redlands and La Jolla, California. She died on April 8, 1998 in La Jolla. She was a member of the American Society of Bookplates Collectors and Designers (ASBCD), and her collection is comprised of thousands of bookplates, sometimes considered miniature pieces of graphic art.

Bookplates are sought by collectors and studied by scholars for the insights they provide into past cultures and societies. Abele’s bookplate collection illustrates the wide scope of past cultures and societies, the communication networks created between individuals who shared an interest in collecting and preserving them, and Abele’s own personal love of nature.

Also contained in the collection are some records of the ASBCD, formed in June of 1922, of which Abele was a member. Charter members included artists Sara B. Hill, Frederick C. Blank,

Elisha Brown Bird, Arthur H. Noll and collectors Rachael M. Hunt and Carlyle S. Baer. The organization’s goal is to further the study and collecting of bookplates. It also serves as a communication network for the entire community of people interested in the history, collection, and preservation of bookplates.

Note Author: Ellen Jarosz





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