From the History of Medicine Collection: Japanese Ex-libris Stamps

June 17, 2015 at 2:55 pm

November 1957 marked the commemoration of the 30th year of the establishment of the Japanese Medical Library Association. A collection of Zôshoin (an owner’s sign as it is referred to in Japan) was compiled by Tomio Ogata, President of the Japanese Medical Library Association, of the 46 members of the University Medical Libraries in Japan. This collection was presented to Mr. Thomas E. Keys, then Director of Mayo Medical Libraries. Mr. Keys took an extended trip to Asia in the early 1960’s and visited libraries in Japan, China, Taiwan and other exotic places. He forged close relationships with many librarians, including Mr. Ogata.

This unique collection was hidden away in the History of Medicine Library’s vertical files and is now available for study, reflection, display and general interest to Mayo Clinic patrons and users alike. It has been catalogued in Cuadra Star Knowledge Center for Archives (SKCA), the database used by Mayo Clinic for special collections and archives.

The collection consists of 46 individual sheets of hand-made Japanese paper known as washi. This paper had a front and back side to it, the front side being identified by a tiny Japanese character stamp meaning “front”. Each sheet shows the name and address of each university member of the medical libraries in Japan. There are also various other stamps in Japanese showing addresses, library director, acquisition and classification. Some of the sheets also have an embossed stamp.

Ex-libris stamps were first seen in China and brought to Japan. Japan’s oldest ex-libris ownership stamps trace back to the Nara period (810 to 1010 AD) where the Emperor Saga used “Sagain no in” and Arikuni Fujiwara, who had a mountain villa at Hino, used “Hokkaiji Bunko”, 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. Stamps come in a variety of forms each showing its own special characteristic depending on the era in which it was used as well as the kind of place it was used in, and the person’s occupation and social standing in the case of a personal ownership stamp. Those used by the feudal lords were grandiose and imposing in their style and those used by men of letters had more refined texts and designs.

Special thanks go to Philip K. Hafferty, BA East Asian Studies, Harvard University, MA Japanese Art History, University of Washington at Seattle who kindly translated this collection for cataloguing purposes.

Contributed to LibLog by:

Hilary J. Lane
Coordinator, History of Medicine Library

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