Shelf Indulgence by Ed Potten

Ed Potten

Shelf Indulgence


The use of sham books in England has a long history. In a famous satirical description of ‘Leonora’s library’, published in The Spectator in 1711, Mr Spectator writes of his visit to the ‘Lady’s Library’ of a widow named Leonora, ‘formerly a celebrated beauty’ who has subsequently ‘turned all the passions of her sex into a love of books’. There he found a number of ‘counterfeit books upon the upper shelves, which were carved in wood, and served only to fill up the number, like fagots in the muster of a regiment’. For this practice to be satirised, it seems likely to have already been well established by 1711.

The early years of the 18th century saw dramatic changes in the content, use and architecture of the private library. With a few notable exceptions, most early 17th-century private libraries in Britain were ‘closet’ libraries, small collections of practical books kept in a locked chest or a closet off a bedchamber. As such, they were wholly private spaces for study, devotion and contemplation. With the increase in printed output in the 16th and 17th centuries, books became more affordable and widely accessible, and libraries began to outgrow

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