CALLING ALL BIBLIOPHILES! THE REVOLVING BOOKCASE IS FOR YOU!
Bookshelves that don’t require styling? Yes, they exist and for the uninitiated, they’re called revolving bookcases. Whereas flat-fronted bookcases and etageres require meticulous editing, revolving—or rotating bookcases as they’re sometimes called—are akin to book caddies. Load one up with books and you’re off to the races, no color-coding, accessorizing, or dusting required. The genius of the rotating bookshelf resides in its design. Similar to a tiered side table, a rotating bookcase comes equipped with two to three shelves attached by a central post. The sides of the bookcase are usually encased by slats of wood which provide structural support to books while also allowing the end books to show off their covers. To provide rotation, revolving bookcases are typically outfitted with revolving bases. Some feature a lazy susan style base while others come equipped with a pronged pedestal.
Rotating bookshelves came into vogue in the late Victorian period, although their origins can be traced as far back as 8th century China. In ancient times, rotating bookcases were used by Buddhist monks to stow their monumental texts. Visually speaking, these antique revolving bookshelves are much more elaborate than their 19th century predecessors. In addition to elaborate ornamentation on the sides and top, these early rotating bookcases typically feature doors so that books are entirely hidden from view.
By comparison, Victorian revolving bookshelves are prolifically pared down. Most showcase the Shaker-like simplicity that governed the Arts and Crafts style of the day and use humble woods like oak or mahogany in their construction. More ornate versions would occasionally come outfitted with inlaid tops. Sunbursts, florets, and crossbandings were all popular motifs in the day and were readily splayed across revolving bookcase tops. Not all Victorian revolving bookcases are Arts and Crafts style, of course. As the style was also popular in the Edwardian era. Dig deep into a search and you’re likely to happen across more delicate specimens, some with brass railings and fluted pedestal legs that perhaps have more in common with a magazine rack than a bookshelf.
Revolving bookcases experienced a revival as more people transitioned into offices and scholarly studies. Lawyers were especially fond of the revolving bookcase style, as they allowed easy access to everyday law books. However, unlike the barrister bookcase—which was also designed with lawyers in mind—the revolving bookcase could not be disassembled for transport, which may have limited its appeal.
Today, revolving bookcases are perhaps most frequently found in libraries. Their spinning display makes them ideal for tucking into corners and displaying niche genres like serial westerns or sci-fi. In homes, the revolving bookcase is more likely to be treated like a side table than an out-and-out bookshelf. Bedtime readers who are liable to fill the drawers of an average nightstand with a rotation of literature can appreciate the style for its ample shelf space. With a rotating bookshelf, there’s no need to edit your nightly reading list. On the contrary, a revolving bookcase encourages bibliophiles to load up on the goods. Most revolving bookcases have room for at least 20 tomes or more, making them ideal for the most voracious of readers.
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