Skip to main content
Turku University Library

Special Collections

What is an ex libris


Picture of Turku University Library's ex libris

An ex libris is a bookplate (a decorative label) that is attached onto the inside of a book’s cover to identify the owner of a book. The name comes from the Latin words ex libris, which mean literally ‘from the books’. An expansion of the meaning is also ‘from among the books’, i.e. ‘from the library of’. The orthodox way to attach the label is on the inside of the front cover, in the upper left corner, but this rule is no longer strict. The exlibris bookplate is used to decorate the book and can be attached to the upper right corner so that it is not hidden behind the book’s dust jacket.

Until late in the 20th century, ex libris bookplates were printed in printing houses. They were small works of art made by well-known artists. As computers and computer programs evolved, people started to manufacture their own bookplates using desktop printers. Anyone could be an artist.

Turku University Library’s own bookplate is designed by artist Eric O. W. Ehrström in the year 1923. The writing says “Ex libris T.S.Y.K.”, where T.S.Y.K. stands for Turun Suomalaisen Yliopistoseuran Kirjasto (the Library of the Finnish-language University Association in Turku). The bookplate also contains the logo of the university, which consists of a torch with wings. The "Winged Torch" logo was also designed by Eric Ehrström.

The collection

The collection consists of donations and legal deposits. The collection reflects the development of bookplates in an interesting way, because the bookplates printed in Finnish printing houses have been received as legal deposit copies, while the legal deposit legislation does not extend to bookplates made with a printer. Therefore, the library receives few bookplates these days and the collection has a clear emphasis on the 20th century.

Part of the collection is in alphabetical order and part, for the moment, is unorganized. The collection can be divided into three parts: 1) a collection organized by the Turku University Library in the 1960s, 2) the donated collection of Rafael Helanko, 3) the unorganized collection.

  1. The library’s collection, organized in the 1960s comprises about 760 bookplates glued to loose-leaves. The loose-leaves also contain additional information, such as the owner of the ex libris and the artists who designed them.
  2. Rafael Helanko (1908-1986) was a doctor of philosophy and docent of the Department of Sociology at the University of Turku. The ex libris in his collection are glued in alphabetical order to storage folder pages. The collection is not as extensive as the collection organized by the library in the 1960s. The folder pages rarely contain the artist's name. Helanko was president of the Exlibris Aboensis Society and through exchanging bookplates he had the opportunity to obtain many ex libris, which were missing from the library collection. Therefore, Helanko's collection complements the library's own collection nicely.
  3. The unorganized bookplates are stored in cases and envelopes. They have accumulated in the 1970s and since.

Some images from the ex libris collection

The first ex libris from the left: The ex libris of Armas Ruotsalainen, Doctor of Medicine and Surgery, Helsinki. Artist:
F. G. Ålander, 1907. The ex libris was donated to the library by A. Nikola, 1960. The ex libris depicts a sheet of paper, a feather pen and a bottle of ink, as well as a small statuette of a human shape.

Second from left: ex libris Matti Schreck, Vice-Judge, Helsinki. Artist: Tyyne Salovaara, 1919. The ex libris was donated to the library by: Taipale, 1949. The ex libris depicts a sword in front of two books with the text Carpe diem.

Third from left: Architect Bertel Jung, Mrs. Gundborg Jung, drawn by Bertel Jung (1872-1946) in 1913. In the centre of the ex libris there is a picture of a flowerpot with five flowers in it.