Before she acquired masterpieces and built a museum of art, Isabella Stewart Gardner collected books and manuscripts. She amassed a collection of over two thousand books—from paperbacks to volumes bound in vellum—and installed them in bookcases throughout her museum.
Following the tradition of other great book collectors, Isabella created her own bookplate. In 1890, Isabella commissioned the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907) to make a sculpture of the winged foot of Hermes, the Greek messenger god. Isabella was reportedly so fond of the foot that she asked the painter Joseph Lindon Smith (1863-1950) to draw it for her bookplate. The resulting design depicts two sides of a coin. One side has the winged foot of Hermes inscribed ‘messenger’ in Greek, and the other is inscribed EX LIBRIS ISABELLA ("From the Books of Isabella") with a crown over the letter ‘Y,’ the initial Isabella often used as shorthand to refer to herself.