Antique Bookcases are one of those irresistibly beautiful pieces that fills a home with sophistication and old world style. If you have a collection of beautiful and cherished books, you cannot simply shove them into a faux wood shelving unit or toss them into a plastic bin! An antique bookcase with glass doors with protect your tomes from dust and dirt. And with so many beautiful types and styles to choose from, you can elevate your walls and ultimately your entire home with hand crafted wood bookcases.
Antique Bookcase Cabinets
Very early antique bookcases often doubled as cabinets. Simply put, they were extensions of the breakfront cabinet so popular in 17th century England.
Chippendale breakfronts often housed fine china and books, both a sign of wealth and knowledge. Large breakfronts or bookcase cabinets often lined the walls of libraries and parlors. Their fine glazed glass doors and mahogany inlay work added so much beauty and drama to a room.
Delicate fretwork often decorated the tops, as did broken arches and finials.
During the Georgian period in England, breakfront bookcase cabinets often stretched to up to 100 inches wide. Sometimes, the interiors were painted a lighted color or lined with silk fabrics to offset the beautiful collection of books.
The closed storage, either of drawers or cabinet doors, beneath a bookcase cabinet came in handy for unused serving dishes and linens. Other people stored important papers and documents within.
Learn more about antique cabinets!
Antique Secretary with Bookcase Top
The antique secretary with bookcase top also became a very useful and adaptable form for early American homes. An antique secretary with bookcase top served as both a writing desk and shelf for books.
The earliest secretaries had cabinets lined with shelves, often hidden behind solid wood doors. These Chippendale secretary desks continued in style for many years. Eventually, the more prestigious glass fronted secretary with bookcase top came into fashion. Often, the glass doors had intricate shapes like the Chippendale honeycomb pattern glazed in them.
Other Federal style secretaries with bookcase tops had a sinuous figure-eight pattern delicately glazed into the doors.
Some featured delicate Hepplewhite style inlay: the egg and dart pattern or the belle-fleur design often showed up in the early secretary with bookcase tops.
Make sure you see our full article about antique desks to find out more information!
Antique Open Bookcases
Antique open bookcases also hit the scene in the 17th century. Often sitting on legs and having step-like profiles, the earliest antique open bookcases showed less cabinetmaking skills than the breakfront cabinet or secretary with bookcase top. Nonetheless, these antique open bookcases were handy little storage pieces.
During the Regency period, low long bookcases on very small bun feet or no feet at all often emerged. Sometimes these simple antique open bookcases were dressed up with carvings along the top frieze and sides. Occasionally they showed carved feet with touches of gilding.
Antique Empire Bookcase
During the Empire period, circa 1820-1840, furniture often took on impressive and bold forms. Antique Empire bookcases in America often had strong Classical columns on either side and large paw feet.
Of course, antique empire bookcases often featured beautiful and rare mahogany wood. Additionally, they sometimes had glazed glass doors and deep shelves. These beautiful antique bookcases look phenomenal in offices or in hallways.
Antique Victorian Bookcases
Antique Victorian bookcases, dating from the 1850’s to early 1900’s, abound. You may see all types of Victorian bookcases with glass doors, ranging from the very simple in design to the very ornate.
Victorian bookcases often took inspiration from the Renaissance and Gothic periods, so you may see gothic arches on bookcase doors or carved figures on opulent antique bookcases from this period.
Sometimes, antique Victorian bookcases were comprised of multiple sections, and stretched along an entire wall. As the Victorian mansion became larger and more spacious, so too did the furniture of the age.
Walnut, rosewood and oak often made up these opulent bookcases. Sometimes they had glass doors, and other times the shelves were left open. Regardless of the style, antique Victorian furniture is still an excellent choice for today’s homes.
Antique Barrister Bookcase
During the late Victorian period, the antique barrister bookcase also emerged. This popular bookcase design features mobile and stackable cases, each with glass fronts. Of course, the glass fronts slide downwards to cover and protect the books, and then tuck away in the top of each section when you need to access the books. This special feature was made possible by several inventions that were patented in the late 1800’s.
The word “barrister” is a British term referring to lawyers. The barrister bookcase can be stacked vertically, and often features side brackets that allow one to cover their entire wall with antique barrister bookcases.
In America, several brands of antique barrister bookcases exist. But the most sought-after name belongs to “Globe-Wernicke.” This Cincinnati Ohio based furniture company began producing these modular bookcases in the late 1800’s. Mostly, we see Globe Wernicke antique barrister bookcases in oak and mahogany. Today, many people collect them, and they look beautiful filled with any sort of collection!
New Uses for Antique Bookcases
While many people still get great joy in collecting and storing books in their antique bookcases, many seek out antique bookcases for other purposes.
Some people wish to use an antique bookcase in a kitchen, in place of standard cabinets.
Others transform antique bookcases into bathroom storage cabinets.
Still others use them for displaying their collectibles.
Some even use large breakfront bookcases as a centerpiece for their television set.
Whatever you end up doing with your antique bookcase, make sure you enjoy it and treasure it in your home!