16 April 2021




Antique Bookcases: When is an antique bookcase ever just an antique bookcase?

When planning to furnish a house with antique bookcases, it is easy to forget in one’s haste to possess the beautiful and the valuable, that these were functional pieces of furniture and vary greatly in size and design. Many antique bookcases were partnered with a set of drawers and were part of a secretary desk for example. Other types of shelving were much larger, such as the breakfront bookcase which would usually reside in the library of a large house, and pieces like these are often too large for the average sized sitting room.

Before printing, hand written manuscripts were usually placed on shelves or stored in cupboards rather than displayed. Eventually cupboard doors were discarded and the modern bookcase came into being. Although now displayed, books were still piled flat rather than placed upright, with their spines against the wall. It was only with the invention of the printing press when book ownership became much cheaper, that titles were printed on spines and books displayed upright.   

Some of the oldest 16th century antique bookcases in England still reside in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. The functionality of these early examples means they are quite austere in appearance, although carved pilasters and cornicing were incorporated to create a more architectural quality to the shelving. Both Chippendale and Sheraton in the 18th century took architectural cabinetry to new heights where satinwood was being used in designs. The French were also manufacturing smaller bookcases during this period made of rosewood and mahogany with marquetry, chased bronze and marble to create very elaborate small pieces of show furniture.

When planning to buy an antique bookcase be aware of the choices that will be presented to you. Lancashire and Cumbria are always good places to start your search when looking for an antique bookcase. Here at Christian Davies Antiques in Preston we will be happy to act as a guide to those interested in not only acquiring a beautiful and increasingly valuable piece of furniture, but also something that will be of use in today’s modern home.

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