“… the study and collecting of bookplates is still an amiable and popular pursuit which can bring pleasures and enlightenment of many kinds. The bookplate, though a minor, often little considered graphic art form, has nevertheless had considerable appeal for art lovers and collectors.”
- Fridolf Johnson, from A Treasury of Bookplates

The Rare Books and Special Collections Division includes among its many collections the Philippe Masson Collection of Ex Libris comprising of approximately 4500 bookplates, of which, three thousand are Canadian in origin. This unique collection represents a wide range of book ownership reflecting institutions, book sellers, and individuals (it is worth noting that there are over one hundred examples of bookplates from Canadian libraries). Moreover, the chronological coverage dates to more than a century from the early 19th century and continuing to the beginning of the Second World War. Bookplate design is a minor, but important form of graphic design and, among the Canadian bookplates, many well-known Canadian artists are represented in the Masson collection including J.E.H. MacDonald, his son Thoreau MacDonald, Jean-Paul Lemieux, and W.F.G. Godfrey.

Although the study of bookplates may seem trivial, or, for that matter an esoteric subject, at first, glance, in fact they reveal a great deal about our book-centred culture. Bookplates not only denote ownership, and can also help to protect against theft. For many institutions, bookplates possess an iconographic or emblematic value reflecting the values of the institution. As well, within an institutional setting, bookplates are often used to acknowledge individual collections, gifts and bequests. Finally, for the individual the bookplate is a powerful symbol of possession and a love of books.

The Masson collection reflects range and scope of the art of the bookplate design, mirroring period styles and incorporating the owners’ personal tastes and pursuits. References to heraldry, literature, nature and art are common.

To date the Philipe Masson bookplate project has evolved in two stages. Since 1996 the Rare Books and Special Collections Division has been fortunate in having a dedicated volunteer undertake the first of what was envisioned as a three phase project to provide access to digital surrogates of the collection. The first phase of the project was the physical organization of the collection; the second phase was the entering of bookplates into a database that will enable researchers to search the collection from an number of different access points. The final phase now completed is the scanning of the Masson collection for which we have created a set archival images and web-based images. Thus researchers will be able to perform a search in the database and view the associated bookplate.

Although Philippe Masson died prematurely, we hope that this scholarly site will honour his collection and its importance for the study of the book and print culture in general.

David McKnight
Digital Collections Librarian
September, 2002