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Barbara Abele Bookplate Collection

Identifier: MS-0050

Scope and Contents

The Barbara Abele Bookplate Collection documents the historical development of bookplates, bookplate designers, and collectors, as well as the communication networks they used when interacting with each other. The collection dates from 1915 to 1998 with the bulk of documents created or collected between 1970 and 1998. It consists of six main series: Bookplates by Subject, Bookplates by Designer, Collector Files, Correspondence, the American Society of Bookplate Collectors and Designers (ASBCD), and Published Materials. The Published Materials series includes two subseries: an incomplete run of the newsletter Bookplates in the News, and other miscellaneous published works, all relating to bookplate collecting and designing.

The Bookplates by Subject and Bookplates by Designer series consists of files of bookplates arranged alphabetically by subject, and designer’s last name, filed from A-Z.

The Collector Files are composed of information about different bookplate collectors, and include some correspondence press releases, and news articles.

The Correspondence series consists of correspondence both with individuals and institutions written by Barbara Abele from the 1970s-1990s primarily about sharing and building her collection of bookplates. It is arranged alphabetically by correspondent or general subject.

The Subject Files consist of a few photographs and files generated during research for public presentations made by Abele, and about bookplate collecting. They are filed alphabetically by subject.

The American Society of Bookplate Collectors and Designers (ASBCD) consists of membership directories dating from 1966, 1977-83, and 1992, and yearbooks dating throughout the 20th century, filed chronologically by year of publication.

The Published Materials series is comprised of two subseries: Bookplates in the News and Other Publications. The collection does not contain a complete run of Bookplates in the News, but does include issues from July 1970 to April 1998. They are filed chronologically. The second subseries, Other Publications, includes a collection of published works drawn upon by Barbara Abele when performing research about bookplates and when networking with other collectors and designers. They are filed alphabetically by author, and inventoried in the Container List below.


  • Creation: 1915-1998
  • Creation: Majority of material found in 1970-1998


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The copyright interests in some or all of these materials have not been transferred to San Diego State University. Copyright resides with the creator(s) of materials contained in the collection or their heirs. The nature of archival collections is such that multiple creators are often applicable and copyright status may be difficult or even impossible to determine. In any case, the user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, obtaining publication rights and copyright infringement. When requesting images from Special Collections & University Archives for publication, we require a signed agreement waiving San Diego State University of any liability in the event of a copyright violation.

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.


6.50 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Arrangement Note

I. Bookplates by Subject, A-Z

II. Bookplates by Designer, A-Z

III. Collector Files, A-Z

IV. Correspondence

V. Subject Files

VI. American Society of Bookplate Collectors and Designers (ASBCD)

VII. Published Materials

1.) Bookplates in the News

2.) Other Publications

Source of Acquisition

Lori McFadden, Brenda J. Heaney, and Karen G. White



Barbara Abele Bookplate Collection
Ellen Jarosz
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections & University Archives Repository

5500 Campanile Dr. MC 8050
San Diego CA 92182-8050 US