Give Your Books A Home: Bookcase History and How Unruh Perfected the Process

In 1672, Andre Charles Boulle, commissioned by King Louis XIV of France, mastered a different kind of furniture. Boulle had mastered the unique type of furniture-making process – now referred to as Boulle Marquetry – that blends elements of copper and tortoiseshell to create magnificent, ornate pieces fit for King Louis (and his marvelous mane). And one of those pieces is what historians view as a first example of the modern bookcase.

Fast-forward 350 years and Unruh Furniture is making furniture for a different kind of royalty: you and your family. Before we look at a few of our bookcase options, it’s important to note how bookcases got here. Boulle obviously took things to a new level. But the invention of the printing press is where the real need arose for a tall, closed off bookcase came into play.

Think about where your books currently reside. Boxes in your basement? Scattered in the attic? And as you (hopefully) gain a new knowledge and respect for the bookcase and its importance, consider the phrase: “Out of sight, out of mind." If your books – wellsprings of knowledge – aren’t readily available and convenient enough to pull out and thumb through, we’ll turn to other options to occupy our time – mindlessly scrolling through our phones etc. And taking a step toward beauty + practicality starts with a visit to our Unruh showroom.

Bookcase History in Brief

Long before Boulle’s shining triumphs of tortoiseshell, Ancient Egyptians used shelves to store papyrus scrolls – archaeologists have uncovered shelves stretching back to 4th-Century B.C. A mere 400-years later, the Roman Empire formed the original bound book to rid scrolls and their inconvenience.

Fifteen-hundred-years after the Roman Empire, books took a world-changing step toward accessibility – enter the printing press. From that point on, bookcases and shelves occupied the walls of wealthy homeowners. And it wasn’t until the 18th-century – with developments such as Boulle’s box – that freestanding bookcase furniture grew in popularity.

In 1766, Thomas Chippendale wrote The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director (if you’re looking for some light reading) which described 14 pieces for new furniture-makers to perfect. Bookcases grew in height, necessitating ladders or stools to reach high books. And Benjamin Franklin devised one his inventions – the “Long Arm” – for older patrons to reach high books without needing to climb a ladder. The 18th-century also produced the bookcase-desk that provided storage space above or below a desk for convenience. As books and bookcases grew in affordability, they inevitably grew in popularity. In 1897, Sear, Roebuck and Co. published seven styles of the bookcase-desk with the following description: “handsomely paneled and elegantly finished.” In the 1950’s, paperback books surged in production and made bookcases the hub for personal libraries comprised of titles on end.

Whew! There you have it . . .  the bookcase history you never knew you needed. But it’s important to acknowledge how we got to the Carolina, the Brookside and the Coleman – three Unruh bookcases highlighted below. The years perfecting the bookcase made its way to our wood-shop, and the process ends with a home delivery to your living-room or office.

The Carolina Bookcase

A high-quality bookcase will transform your room, and the Carolina is up to the task. Deep, solid-wood shelves provides a striking-yet-classic look to present books, picture frames and more. This piece is bold yet works in any room. We have several typed of wood to choose from. We’re confident in its beauty no matter how you choose to customize.

carolina bookcase

carolina bookcase

The Brookside Bookcase

For a more modern take, the Brookside will not disappoint. The steel frame provides a beautiful backdrop to all your favorite memories and belongings. A transparent background will ensure your wall color shines through this Unruh bookcase built for your family.

brookside bookcase

brookside bookcase

The Coleman Bookcase

A little lower to the ground, our Coleman serves multiple purposes for entertainment. Obviously, the two dynamic shelves provide ample space for books and belongings, but the top surface is prime for a television or other items. The Coleman is versatile for any room that needs a little boost in organization.

coleman bookcase

coleman cookcase

Together, let’s promote a healthy push to #bringbackthebookcase – it has a rich history in storing important books, documents and therefore knowledge. If “out of sight” really does mean “out of mind” then it’s time we make a shift. Andre Charles Boulle would be happy to know you’re furthering his favorite kind of furniture.

As for Unruh? We’re just standing on the shoulders of giants who came before us . . . and perfecting hand-crafted furniture in the process.

By Will Severns

Will is married to Lauren and together they have one son: Branch. Will is a diehard Kansas City Royals fan, loves to read, and is always down to share a meal at Chick-fil-A (without sharing the actual meal of course).

Contact Unruh Furniture’s team today to customize the way you live.

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