Friday, 5 June 2009

Japanese Ex-Libris Stamps from the National Diet Library Collection

The National Diet Library of Japan has an electronic exhibition of Japanese Ex-Libris Stamps under the general title "Memories of Japan", from which we quote:

«Ex-libris ownership stamps were imprinted in books to clearly indicate to
which collection these literary works belonged. They were first seen in China
from where they were brought to Japan. While we can trace Japan's oldest
ex-libris ownership stamps back to the Nara period (710 to 794), we cannot
pinpoint when nor how they were introduced to Japan. In any case, since that
time until the middle of the Edo period (1603 to 1867) they were used by only a
limited number of people such as in temples and shrines and by members of the
privileged classes. However, as books became more common, and as scholars and
persons of letters who collected books grew in number, a wide variety of
ex-libris ownership stamps were produced to satisfy this more widespread
use. »

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«At this writing, the National Diet Library houses about 7.7 million volumes. They were originated from the old collections of the Imperial Diet's House of Peers and House of Representatives, and the Imperial Library's old collection which originated from the book repository established in the fifth year of the Meiji era (1872). Among these collections, some of those of the early collectors have been kept intact, while others have been scattered through the ages and only a few books have reached the shelves of the NDL. We would like to introduce a selection of 30 ex-libris ownership stamps allowing you to sample the historical aspects and charm of the culture of these stamps that are a part of the meticulously kept collection housed at the National Diet Library».

As it can be seen, book ownership stamps derived from China can be traced back in Japan to the Nara period (VIIIth century Christian Era). In Europe, ex libris in print form had to wait for the «invention» of printing by Guttenberg. Till then they were manuscript in the folios of the great monastic or princely libraries.

A testimony of the great cultural heritage of the Japanese civilization and an example of what some western Libraries that hold large bookplate collections should do.

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