James Guthrie: his book of book-plates, 1907From earliest times, people have indicated their ownership of texts with a variety of marks. The ex-libris, or bookplate, emerged along with printing in Germany in the late 15th century.

Ex-libris can take a number of forms: as a label pasted into a book; as a stamp applied to the volume; or less commonly, as supralibros, which were heraldic motifs stamped onto the outer boards.

Common design elements included armorial bearings, often embellished with architectural references or ornamental additions drawn from nature, such as foliage and wreaths. Others were essentially pictorial. Nearly all were minor works of decorative art in their own right.

Bookplates reached the height of their popularity domestically in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Not only was it considered the height of fashion for you or your institution to own your very own ex-libris, but, following the publication in 1880 of J. Leicester Warren’s Guide to the study of Book-plates, there emerged a certain vogue in collecting them.

Below are some late c.19th and c.20th examples from a small collection of bookplates relating to books or collections in Special Collections.

MS 1380/2/29King’s College bookplate

Aberdeen outstanding library collections are the amalgamation of the collections of the fifteenth century King's College and the sixteenth century Marischal College, with continual enrichments from donors to this day. The University has 26 works that have been at King's College since the fifteenth century as part of the founder's own library.



MS 1380/2/11Bookplate of The MacBean Collection

This collection, with over 3,500 books and 1,000 pamphlets, plus numerous sermons, official reports and satirical verse, is one of the largest Jacobite Collections in the country and provides invaluable insights into late 17th and 18th century society in general, in particular, the various Jacobite risings.  Visit the Drawn Sword’ database to gain access to c.1,300 loose engravings and woodcuts that form part of the MacBean collection.




MS 1380/2/17Bookplate of The O’Dell Transport Collection

This ranks as one of the major railway collections in Britain. The collection was bequeathed to the University of Aberdeen by Andrew C. O’ Dell (1909-66), first Professor of Geography in the University, and it is the legacy of a lifelong study of transport, especially railways.  The collection includes all aspects of transport with an emphasis on the North and North-east of Scotland, particularly the history of the Great North of Scotland Railway Company (1854-1922). Read more about the O'Dell Transport Collection here.


MS 1380/2/3Bookplate of John Malcolm Bulloch

The University holds many manuscript collections and printed volumes, of, or relating to, John Malcolm Bulloch.  Bulloch graduated from this University with an MA in 1888. He worked for 'Aberdeen Free Press' initially, then later, for various papers in London including 'The Graphic', of which he was editor. He became a well-known literary and theatre critic. Despite being London-based, he retained a deep commitment to his roots in Aberdeen, with regular contributions to the 'Aberdeen University Review' and work with the Third Spalding Club.


MS 1380/2/2Bookplate of The Bibliotheck of Kirkwall

Founded in 1683, the Bibliotheck of Kirkwall was the oldest public library in Scotland.  In 1890, its 350 volume collection was put up for public auction and bought by an Archdeacon of Orkney who gave them to this University in 1914. The books are mainly from the 16th and 17th centuries and most are theological. The collection includes editions of Calvin, Bèze, Knox, Zanchius and Rutherford.  The volumes throw light on the social, political and academic debates of the time, with rare 17th century texts (academic theses) of Andrew Aidie (later Principal of Marischal College), and Thomas Reid, as well as other Aberdeen scholars. Read more about the Bibliotheck of Kirkwall here.

MS 1380/2/12Bookplate of the Gilroy Bequest

James Gilroy, M.A., B.D. (Aberd.), D.D. (St. And.) was Regius Professor of Hebrew and Semitic languages at the University of Aberdeen from 1895 to 1931.  A Divinity Scholarship was created in his name in 1962 with funds from his widow.