As we saw in our previous posts on ex libris and provenance, book collectors have, over the centuries, used a variety of means to indicate personal ownership of a particular volume. Some of these indicia, such as bookplates, appear inside books. Other indicia may appear on the bindings of books:
When marks of personal ownership are applied to the bindings of books, they are known collectively as supralibros. Although the best known and probably most numerous supralibros are coats-of-arms, other marks of ownership commonly found stamped on bindings are the owner’s name, initials, monogram, or some combination thereof. Such marks may appear on either the upper or lower cover, the spine, or in several places at once:
Supralibros used to be quite popular, especially in countries like France, Great Britain, Italy and Spain. Leather bindings were the primary recipients of such indicia, either stamped with gold leaf or blind-stamped, although a few extraordinary volumes are known where such indicia was hand-stitched as part of a fabric binding. Such is the case with the binding below, an armorial velvet binding on Franz Joseph von Herz zu Herzfeld's Historia civilis de quatuor mundi monarchiis (1734), formerly in the collection of Leopold Anton Eleutherius von Firmian, Prince Archbishop of Salzburg (now in the collection of Salzburg University Library):
Among ardent bibliophiles, one of the most collectible of all supralibros is that of the distinguished French book collector Jean Grolier de Servières, viscount d'Aguisy (after whom The Grolier Club is named):
Of course, as with bookplates, supralibros do not guarantee that a particular volume was ever actually in the possession of a particular individual. It was not uncommon for unscrupulous binders to retain a stamp and use it on volumes that never actually belonged to the device's rightful owner. As with most other issues of provenance, due diligence will save you much grief....