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Types of Provenance

Provenance comes in a variety of styles and forms, but is most commonly found as signatures, inscriptions and bookplates. This cabinet contained examples of:

Ex Libris (Bookplates)

Bookplate of William Steele

Ex Libris, meaning ‘from the book of’ or ‘from the library of’ are often the most common form of ownership marks found on books. They have appeared in books from as far back at the 16th century in Britain, with some earlier examples from Europe, though they were not referred to as bookplates until around the end of the 18th century. They originally featured family crests, coats of arms and seals, accompanied by a name and/or a motto. Bookplates are often designed by professional artists and engraved onto paper, then fixed into a book with glue. They are collected in much the same way as postcards or stamps, with dedicated bookplate collector societies.

You can find more examples of the bookplates found in our collections on our online Provenance Archive

Signatures and Inscriptions

Another common form of provenance, it can include a variety of styles including:

  • names written to indicate ownership
  • notes and letters to friends
  • examples of handwriting practice.

Similar to bookplates, it is quite common for signatures to be removed from books for ‘autograph’ or signature albums by collectors.

Types of Provenance - Notes Types of Provenance - Handwriting practice Types of Provenance - Family history

Armorial Binding Stamps

Made popular around the time of the Elizabethan era, armorial stamps were often added to books after being bound to indicate ownership. They were most commonly placed in the centre of the front and back boards and featured either coats of arms or heraldic devices. Originally favoured by royalty, they later become more common for both personal and institutional libraries and collections.

University Library

Barr Smith Library
South Australia 5005


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