Take Part in a Free Library Holiday Tradition: Dedicate a Bookplate

By Jamie K. RSS Tue, December 8, 2020

Each holiday season, the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation creates a festive commemorative bookplate that members of the community can gift in honor or in memory of those they care most about.

With a gift of just $50 to the Free Library Fund, a bookplate inscribed with your honoree’s name will be placed inside a book in the Free Library’s collection. And, in addition to participating in this annual tradition at the Free Library and giving the gift of a bookplate to your loved one, you’re supporting the Free Library of Philadelphia's programs and resources and impacting thousands of people across the Philadelphia region.

Bookplates bear a theme that relates to the book’s owner. It could be a family crest, coat-of-arms, badge, motto, or piece of original artwork. Bookplates usually include an inscription such as "from the books of...", "from the library of...", or the Latin phrase "ex libris" followed by the book owner’s name. As Barbara Orbach Natanson states in a blog post on the Library of Congress website, bookplates reveal a lot about the book owner and can be its own work of art.

In the United States, bookplates took the place of book rhymes that were common during the 18th and 19th centuries. Book rhymes are a short poem or rhyme printed inside the front book cover that indicated ownership and discouraged theft. Book rhymes took the place of book curses, which date back to pre-Christian times—these curses invoked the wrath of gods to protect books and scrolls.

This year’s Commemorative Bookplate features a lithograph titled (The) Cradle of Liberty, depicting Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. This print is one of numerous historical images of Philadelphia in the Free Library’s Print and Picture Collection, home to a diverse assortment of fine art prints, photographs, drawings, and artists’ books.

(The) Cradle of Liberty was created by Black painter, printmaker, and art educator Claude Clark (1915-2001), whose work mainly focused on the diaspora of African American culture. Clarke graduated from Roxborough High School and studied at the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art (now University of the Arts) and the Barnes Foundation. From 1939-1942, Clarke worked at Philadelphia’s Fine Print Workshop, which was a division of the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration. While there, he worked alongside artists Dox Thrash and Raymond Steth. From 1942 until his death, Clarke continued his career painting, exhibiting, and working as an educator.

Don’t miss this opportunity to give a special gift this year—dedicate a bookplate to a loved one today!


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Vladislav Polunin - Philadelphia
Sunday, February 28, 2021