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Inside an Antique Bookplate Collection

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UMKC Miller Nichols Library has a new exhibit in the Fourth Floor Dean’s Gallery, “A Most Personal Work of Art.” It is a display of bookplates, a cross-section of the nearly 600 unique bookplates available for viewing in the LaBudde Special Collections.

As one of the more seemingly ephemeral works of graphic arts, bookplates nevertheless can wield a powerful visual presence in a small amount of space. Bookplates are printed labels that indicate ownership of a book, and are usually affixed to the inside cover of a volume. Also known as “ex libris” (Latin for “out of the library of”), bookplates have a long and intricate history.

As bookplates grew in popularity, many began collecting these personal works of art. One such collector was H. Alfred Fowler, a Kansas City businessman who was a connoisseur of bookplates and other graphic works. Fowler came to Kansas City when he was two and grew up to work in the grain business, starting his own firm in 1928, the Fowler Commission Company. He was described as a grain man, book collector, bookplate connoisseur and authority on woodcuts and engravings. As an editor and publisher, Fowler was responsible for dozens of publications on bookplates and the graphic arts, many of which were published from his offices in the Board of Trade building. At one point he even served as secretary-treasurer of the American Bookplate Society.

The bookplates in “A Most Personal Work of Art” are from the Robert M. Snyder Collection of Americana in the LaBudde Special Collections and it is believed that some, if not all of the bookplates, were originally owned by Fowler. The exhibit will be on display through the spring semester.

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