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Medieval Libraries and Manuscripts


Bookcase in the Medicean Library at Florence.

Book Lover is a website for bookworms offering hard to find books onlineIn English libraries at least bookcases arranged on what I may term the Oxford type were in general use throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The invention of printing had largely increased the number of volumes, and at the same time diminished their value, so that chaining was no longer necessary. When it had been abandoned neither a desk, nor a seat in close proximity to the books, was required. In consequence, though libraries continued to be built on the ancient type with numerous windows close to the floor, it was possible to alter the old cases, or to make new ones, with a far larger number of shelves than heretofore; and when further space for books was needed, low cases were interposed between each pair of tall ones. A splendid specimen of this treatment is to be seen at S. John's College, Cambridge, where the bookcases were put up soon after the completion of the library in 1628.[Pg 50] Though the plinth and central pilaster have been taken away, and the levels of the shelves changed, their original appearance can be recovered at a glance. On the top of all the low cases there was a desk, in memory of that of ancient times. At the end of the taller cases is a panel to contain the catalogue, here closed by a small door.

Bookcases in S. John's College Library.

Sometimes, as we see at Peterhouse, ancient usage asserted itself so far that a seat was contrived by making the plinth of the tall case project to a sufficient distance. These bookcases were set up between 1641 and 1648.

Next: Peterhouse Library

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