Bookplates Created by Arturo Schomburg Reveal His History as Bibliophile and Curator

By Lisa Herndon, Managers, Schomburg Communications and Publicity
January 20, 2022
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
This is the first book plate created by Arturo Schomburg (left). It appears inside texts, which were part of Mr. Schomburg’s 1926 sale of books to The New York Public Library.

NYPL Digital Images: 1939249 and 58167139.

What do the Schomburg Center’s Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division (MARB) and The Schomburg Shop have in common? Both use the design of a personal bookplate created by Arturo Schomburg (1874-1938) in 1890.MARB uses the bookplate as one of the division’s signature images on the Schomburg Center’s location page while the Shop uses the design as part of one of its tote bags.
 Cheryl Beredo, MARB’s curator, shares the importance of the label in Mr. Schomburg’s personal collection of books and Virginia Mixon, the Shop’s manager, shares customer feedback on the tote, which is one of its bestselling items.  

Arturo Schomburg also created a second bookplate and stamped books from his personal collection with his name and address.

Photo: Lisa Herndon

“Arturo Alfonso Schomburg was a pioneering collector, and his ‘seed library’ of several thousand items has grown to over 11 million items at the Schomburg Center today,” Beredo said. “But that growth over a century can be difficult to wrap our minds around. This plate and others, carefully pasted into book after book, reminds us of not only Schomburg's care for these ‘vindicating evidences,’ but also that this collection was built one piece at a time.”

The Schomburg Center founder also had another way of labeling his books. He used a stamp, which listed his name and his address at 205 West 115th Street in black ink.

Researchers can see both firsthand inside texts such as Argument of John Quincy Adams Before the Supreme Court of the United States, Reports of the Committee on the Conduct of the War by the U.S. Congress, and Topographical and Political Description of Saint Domingo by Moreau de Saint-Mery.

The Schomburg Shop began selling bags showing Arturo Schomburg’s iconic bookplate in 2020.

Photo: The Schomburg Shop

A label with the words “From the Library of Arthur A. Schomburg” is part of the design of tote bags released by the Schomburg Shop in 2020 in honor of the Center’s 95th anniversary.

Made of canvas with leather shoulder straps and brass accents, the bags come in gold, black, and navy. It sells for $55. A copy of the bookplate appears on the bag’s outer pocket.

The totes have caught the eye of people walking in front of  the Shop, which sits on the corner of 135th Street and Lenox Avenue. Passersby have stopped inside to take a closer look.

“It is the (book) plate that is the selling point,” Mixon said. “The gold is the best seller.”  

Over the years, there have been updates to bookplates to reflect Mr. Schomburg’s connection with materials and his role at The New York Public Library.

The one used by MARB and the Shop are Mr. Schomburg’s first version. A second personal bookplate is an illustration of an enslaved person with chains on his hands and down on one knee. The words, “Ex Libris, Arthur A. Schomburg” are below. Both can be found in the materials he sold to NYPL in 1926. Another version states his books were part of a non-circulating reference collection of materials.

In a 1940 bookplate, NYPL renamed the materials “The Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature and History” in honor of Mr. Schomburg, who passed away two year earlier. NYPL created another bookplate, which was used starting in 1972 to reflect being renamed the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. 
If you would like to learn more about Mr. Schomburg’s collection of books, explore the research guide created by librarians in MARB.

“His efforts were not just a labor of love, but it was also disciplined, yearslong, consistent,” Beredo said. “We continue that work today.”


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