Closing The Case On Bookcases

By: James Monahan

A bookcase is a furniture that forms a shelved spaces most of the time horizontal or perpendicular, used in storing books.

In earlier days, when bookcase were still unheard of, and books were handwritten, books were also scarce. To keep them protected, they were kept in small caskets that writers or authors carry with them wherever they may go. As time passed by manuscripts were created and were divided in volumes to be able to easily identify them. In time, these volumes of manuscripts grew into a larger number. And since manuscripts were important, they couldn¡¯t just be thrown away. These volumes of manuscripts were kept in shelves or stored in cupboards where the modern bookcase of today, transcends from.

In time, the doors of the shelves and cupboards that were getting in the way of easily acquiring the manuals, they were discarded. This enabled the bookcase make a step forward into modernity.

Sadly, even at that time, volumes were not organized in the modern way that we do today with our bookcase. They were usually placed atop of each other in piles or when they are set upright, they were facing the wrong way with their edges outward.

And even if they were placed the right way, at this time leather, parchment or vellum that is used to cover the writings were used to inscribed the title ? the title then, ends up on the fore-edge instead of the back where they are modernly placed.

Up until the invention of printing when only, the proper placing of books in the bookcase where implemented. Because at this time, books were cheaper, it became the tradition to write the title to the back and place the book with its edges inward.

In the early days, bookcases were usually made up of oak. Oaks are deemed to be the most appropriate wood to use in constructing a bookcase, many old and modern libraries seem to think so that they have applied this concept to their bookcases.

England¡¯s Bodleian Library at the Oxford University houses the oldest bookcase there is. It was placed there before the end of the 16th century. One can find the earliest examples of the bookcase as a shelved gallery over flat wall cases; can be found at the said library.

Chippendale and Sheraton are famous for designing bookcases. Most of their works were rhombus styled with corners edging upward and downward and are far apart than the sideway corners, and covered in frames of elegance and charm.

On the other hand, the French cabinet makers of the 18th century also succeeded with their small bookcase. To differentiate their work with Chippendale and Sheraton¡¯s satinwood, the French makers used rosewood, exotic timber and mahogany and inlaid them with marquetry, while they were mounted with glazed and chased bronze.

There are three ways to arrange a bookcase:

1) in base or alcoves
2) in stacks or ranges and
3) flat against the wall.

The stack system is more commonly used in public libraries, where the bookcases are parallel to each other with just enough space to let visitors and librarians pass by. This arrangement is essential because space is much needed in the library. The bay system where the bookcases are at the right angle to the wall cases also utilizes space, which can also be used as a bookcase arrangement in some special libraries.

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James Monahan is the owner and Senior Editor of

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