In earlier times, it was customary for the proud owner of a book to identify his or her copy with an ex-libris. These bookmarks or even book owners’ marks were usually small graphics that were drawn by hand, pasted, or frequently even stamped into the book. The term "ex-libris" is Latin and means "from the books."
An ex-libris contains the name or the monogram of the book owner. Because of their frequently artistic design, they are considered to be works of graphic craftwork. There are numerous book owners‘ marks created by artists such as Lucas Cranach, Albrecht Dürer, Hans Holbein, Marcus Behmer, Michael Fingesten, Max Klinger, Heinrich Vogeler-Worpswede, and many others. They used a great variety of printing techniques ranging from woodcut to copperplate engraving, etching, and lithography. Popular motifs are allegories, portraits, portrayals related to professions and social status, cityscapes, still lifes, landscape depictions, coats of arms, and ornamental designs.
The signatures that monks attached to the books that they carefully copied in the early Middle Ages are considered to be the forerunners of the ex-libris. After Gutenberg invented book printing, which meant that books could be produced much more quickly and economically, large libraries were created. During this time, the need arose for people to clearly mark their books with book owners’ marks. Artfully designed ex-libris were pasted or stamped into the binding of the book.
According to the current status of research, the earliest ex-libris were book owners‘ marks by Hildebrand Brandenburg. These were made using woodcut technology, beginning in the years between 1470 und 1490. Many famous artists have dedicated themselves to making ex-libris in current times. For the past two-hundreds years, this special artistic form of expression has been increasingly collected by aficionados and has now found its own legitimacy of ex-libris art within the field of book art.