Farber Archives opens the book on one of its treasures

The archives is home to the first bookplate, which dates back to the 15th century

The first bookplate

The Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections at Brandeis has the distinction of holding an example of the earliest known bookplate, which comes from the collection of Brother Hildebrand (Hilpbrand) Brandenburg of Biberach, Germany. According to Special Collections assistant Adam Rutledge, scholars date the bookplate to the 1470s, and it must have been completed by 1480, at which time Hildebrand, a Carthusian monk, donated his collection, accompanied by these bookplates, to his monastery in Buxheim. From that point in the 15th century, it moved on from one library to the next until its acquisition by Brandeis.

“We have a wealth of rare, original, and unique materials in our book and manuscript collections, of interest to a wide variety of fields,” said Special Collections Librarian Sarah Shoemaker, “and sometimes a particular aspect of an item can capture attention beyond its subject. This historically significant bookplate is a great way in to an exploration of book history in general and our rare book collections specifically.”

The bookplate specifically captured the attention of Rutledge, who is a PhD candidate in English and American Literature. Rutledge meticulously researched the history of the bookplate and authored a “Special Collections Spotlight” article on it.

“Our Special Collections department is a great resource for the Brandeis community, and the process of bringing some of the more unique items forward to broader awareness is one that I have greatly enjoyed,” Rutledge said. “This particular piece began with an enigmatic note penciled inside the front cover of one of our medieval manuscripts that read simply, ‘the first bookplate.’ In my Special Collections Spotlight article, part of my effort was to try to capture the process behind researching the provenance of an important volume.

Visit the Farber Archives & Special Collections Web site to learn more about the bookplate and all of Special Collections’ spotlight items.

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