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As you might have noticed in my recent Swap It Like It’s Hot post (and many other posts as well, if you’re a regular reader), I love antique and vintage books.
I’m not sure how or why I first got my hands on a musty, fragile, cloth-bound old book, but by the time I started high school, I was spending my allowance and birthday money on two things: buying CDs, like most of my peers, and tracking down antique copies of my favorite literature, a slightly more idiosyncratic pastime.
Typographic bookplates and hand-written inscriptions? Be still my heart!
As a major bookworm since devouring my first “chapter book” at the age of 5, I initially set out to acquire old editions of all my favorite works, mainly by searching them out on eBay. Naturally, once they arrived, my new acquisitions were carefully organized by color, which I’ll have you know I’ve been doing my entire life, blissfully ignorant at thirteen that it was such a divisive decorating trend.
I still remember the day I tried mixing in a few horizontal stacks of books, which I probably saw in the pages of a decorating magazine I stole from my mom… LIFE. CHANGING.
Over time, my collection has expanded to include other beautifully bound books that I find out thrifting and have occasionally, I’ll admit, purchased for the cover alone.
All that is to give you a little back story – while today’s post is focusing on books as decorative objects, I’ve actually read and enjoyed many of the books you see in these photos!
Today, I’ll be sharing some of the ways I use books in decorating as well as the places I’ve sourced them in the past, and if I can find any links for the particular books you see, I’ll include it beneath the photos.
I absolutely adore the burlap texture of the bottom book! Thomas Merton: Seeds of Contemplation
The Matching Set
These books are some of my favorite possessions. Teenage me would have placed them in my top 5 things I would grab in the event of a fire (along with that -yep- color-coded CD collection).
They are part of a special series from Garden City Publishing Co., published in the 1930’s, with gorgeous color plate illustrations from famous artists from “The Golden Age of Illustration” like N.C. Wyeth, Kay Nielsen, and Edmund Dulac.
The artwork by Kay Nielsen in East of the Sun and West of the Moon is absolutely breathtaking.
It’s one of my life goals to have a plate or two enlarged and framed!
This collection began when my grandparents sent me East of the Sun and West of the Moon, which belonged to my grandpa growing up, as a birthday gift. I spent months/years tracking down other books from the series mainly via eBay auctions, although it has been a long time and Amazon and Etsy look like a better place to snag copies these days!
While I treasure this series for sentimental reasons, I also adore the multi-colored printing on the cloth spines. These live on the oak sideboard in my living room and are typically paired with a wooden fox.
A matching set of vintage books is a great way to fill in an empty space and create interest without being too eclectic. Since the books are all the same size, shape and color (roughly), they seem to function as one decorative object rather than many.
The Color-Coordinated Collection
Do you remember this mantel from my Thanksgiving dining room last year?
I pulled out all my reddish and russet-hued books that seemed perfect for fall!
Treasure Island | The Works of Rudyard Kipling | Seeds of Contemplation | The Robe |
Various antique “Elsie Dinsmore” books (another series I collected with great dedication growing up)
Child-Library Readers | A Child’s Garden of Religion Stories | The Wide, Wide World
Antique “Elsie Dinsmore” books | 1939 Swedish dictionary: “Svenskt Konversations Lexikon”
The book on the bottom is an incredible vintage Swedish dictionary with the most gorgeous paper and leather binding… I think it was just a dollar or two at Goodwill!
It seems I always go for books on the mantel. This is its current state, with just a few new colors thrown in to echo the thrifted painting…
There’s nothing like old books for texture!
And for treasures like this inside…
Sometimes you just need a little elevation in a decorative vignette when an object seems a little orphaned by itself. You’ve probably noticed by now – I love to use books to ground displays.
This leopard would have felt too little and alone without his colorful book pedestal.
On the bottom: The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (with stunning art by Edmund Dulac, naturally).
One of my favorite pairings: this old Latin theology book and vintage Civil Engineering textbook (which you can pick up for $85 on Amazon, but which I found at Goodwill for their standard hard-backed price!)
Any time you have a great decorative accessory, but it needs a little boost to garner it the attention it deserves, try stacking a few books!
Where to Shop
Of course, you know my first answer will be “hit the thrift stores!” Always do a quick survey of the often-overlooked book section of the thrift store for literary treasures. Scan for cloth covers, gold lettering, striking colors or interesting textures. If you know what you’re looking for, it’s amazing how quickly you’ll spot the treasures among the trade paperbacks and dated best-sellers!
Pro: Many thrift stores price all their books the same, say $2 for an hardback, or $0.50 for a children’s book, regardless of age.
Con: Obviously, thrift store shopping is completely unpredictable and locating a specific title or series is fairly unlikely.
I’ll include garage sales, estate sales, and even family member’s attics and basements in here. A benefit of acquiring old books directly from the owner/owner’s family is that you have the opportunity to dig a little deeper into their history! I cherish the books that I knew belonged to my grandfather and grandmother growing up, but even if there isn’t a family connection, I love finding out little tidbits of history.
Pro: You may be able to easily acquire instant collections this way!
Con: Like thrift stores, sales can be so hit or miss – you just never know what you’ll find, which can be either completely exciting or completely annoying depending on your personality. (I’ll admit, I sometimes fall into the “annoyed” camp!)
I’ve only been to a few of these, so I’m not an authority by any means. But growing up my family always snapped up vintage books at library sales as our library cleared them off the shelves for newer copies.
Pro: Great prices!
Con: Books may contain marks, stamps (“ex libris”), bar codes, stickers, and tape that mar the binding.
I just can’t resist browsing the shelves of antique books whenever I visit an antique store! The sellers have usually pre-selected only the most fascinating, old, important, and beautiful books – they’ve gone to the thrift stores, garage sales, estate sales, etc., and done all the digging already.
Pro: You [hopefully] won’t be rummaging through piles of moldering romance novels.
Con: The books are typically priced higher, reflecting the fact that they have been carefully curated.
If you’re looking for a particular title, author, publisher, etc., you seriously can’t beat Amazon! I was able to find most of the titles I linked in this post on Amazon, down to the correct vintage copy.
Pro: Ease of finding specific titles. Sometimes you can find an old copy for crazy low prices!
Con: Listing photos don’t usually show the actual copy you are purchasing. Prices are across the board and reflect collectibility.
Where I wasn’t able to find certain books on Amazon, I was usually able to track them down on Etsy. Etsy is also a great place to browse for beautiful vintage books. Especially if you aren’t looking for something specific, you can find some great deals!
Pro: Every listing has photos and a description, making it easy to visually browse for interesting old books.
Con: Specific titles/editions may be hard to find. Not as extensive a selection as, say, Amazon.
eBay and half.com:
eBay and half.ebay.com were my go-to places for vintage book collecting in the past, although they didn’t prove as useful as Amazon when pulling together this post. Re: eBay: I tend to avoid auction formats these days thanks to my anxiety (talk about a trigger!), but you never know what you’ll find, so it’s always worth a quick search!
Whew! Was that a post or what?
As you can tell, I’m pretty passionate about vintage books, so I hope you enjoyed a peek into how I use them in decorating and all the places I tend to find them!
Do you share this passion? How do you decorate with vintage books? Any tips/tricks for finding them?
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