Just discovered this book on Amazon: The Library: An Illustrated History.
“The Library tells the story of libraries and of the changing form and function of the book from era to era, whether clay tablets, parchment sheets, papyrus scrolls, glossy paper, recording tape or silicone chips. At the heart of the story of libraries and books is the story of the reader, who also has changed from era to era. Profusely illustrated, with fascinating is a comprehensive look at libraries that will interest book lovers and librarians.”
The book is indeed very richly illustrated. The sections on ancient libraries is especially interesting. There is not a lot written on the subject, as far as I know.
I have posted many images of various home libraries and their furnishings. It gives me special pleasure, however, to reproduce this piece of prose that speaks to the heart of a true book lover using a more familiar medium — the written word. This fragment is from Uncle Hiram’s Library by ‘Cousin Hannah’. It appeared in Merry’s museum and Parley’s magazine in 1857. The description is both idyllic and romantic, with everything that makes a great home library briefly mentioned…
A bright fire is burning in the library fireplace, and oh, how pleasant the blazing logs look, what a bright cheerful light they make when twilight comes on! On every side of the room are well-filled book-cases, reaching almost up to the ceiling. A large study table is in the middle of the room, covered with Uncle’s books and papers, and close by is his arm-chair, ready for him whenever he wants to write or read. His favorite place, however, is that lazy-looking seat, half sofa, half arm-chair, by the fire. Here he rests at twilight, and tells his children all sorts of stories about days gone by. Over the fireplace hangs a picture of an old monastery, which, perched upon an overhanging cliff, overlooks a smiling valley; in the tower is a tiny bell, which strikes the hour with a clear, sweet tone, while the hands of the clock, small as they are, keep perfect time in their journey round the clock face. The clear ringing of Uncle Hiram’s clock is heard all over the house, and we call it “the Convent Bell.” Now, I have told you all the wonders of Uncle’s library, except some little curious things which are scattered about on the table and shelves, or in the drawers; many of them are presents from far-off friends. One is an inkstand, which always stands on his study-table; ’tis made of the claw of an eagle—the three toes, tipped with silver, form the stand, and a little socket is made in the leg, to hold an inkstand.
It is debatable whether a clock is a desirable item at a home library. After all, library is a space where you may want to be free from the constraints of time. Things are a bit different if the clock you put on the shelf or on the desk is actually a curiosity of note. Being able to tell time would be an added feature, nothing more. Atmos clock is just such a curiosity. These clocks never have to be wound up. They simply use slight variations in atmospheric pressure, while actually keeping time in a very reliable way. Atmos clocks are Swiss-made! They can still be found at antique stores or you may be able to locate a clock by a different manufacturer.
Phrenology is a foreign subject to our modern medical practices but in the Victorian era it was common science. Each of the 48 faculties of the brain served as a sort of map to a person’s innate nature and personality. Specific areas were identified as being responsible for love, intellectuality, energy levels, and morals; doctors believed they could tell everything about a person from mapping out the bumps and oddities of the human skull. A phrenology head is a teaching tool that could help you easily learn the location of all these crucial areas. Fortunately, you don’t need to learn anything if you are simply getting a phrenology head as decoration for your home library. These objects are a curious extension of the more traditional busts and sculptures, but they have a distinct Victorian flavor. Great for a steampunk home library!
This 1816 etching by John Britton represents a typical home library during Regency. The library is located at Cassiobury Park and it was used similarly to many other home libraries of the time — it was essentially the most important room of the house and could be easily referred to as a family sitting room. A group of small dogs in the front sufficiently demonstrates the openness of this library to anyone and anything. At the same time, all traditional library features are present and their style is unmistakable. We see built-in bookcases that are architectural in nature. In other such libraries you would often see (apart from the books, obviously) various antiquities and curiosities. Small private museums of this sort had a long history, but in Georgian times and in the early 19th century the trend became very popular. As far as architectural styles, Regency designers preferred neoclassical decor, howver Gothic influences were also quite common at the discretion of individual owners who were inspired by the love of all things Medieval (as interpreted by novelists and poets). The furniture of this particular home library is typical Regency style (note the Grecian chairs), but the general tone has a certain Gothic air.
I am including some additional samples of Regency library furniture. I especially like the library steps and the breakfront bookcase.