Wednesday 27 May 2015

against veneration: faux books

Maitland-Smith Aged Regency Finished Mahogany And Lacquer Occasional Table, Leather Faux Book Drawers


at Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen, Paris

On Monday, in Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen I noticed a piece of furniture in a row of decomposing wardrobes: a disintegrating drinks cabinet with a decaying faux books panel. €1200. Needs some restoration.
The faux books were not blank. Even though the titles were generally illegible, three of them read MUSEE DE VERSAILLES(?) 18XX-18XX and one of them read XXXXX DE MAISON. The cabinet was probably made at the turn of the century, possibly commissioned by a middle class Parisian who wished to be seen as the sort of person who might have offered you a glass of fashionable absinthe from the cabinet to complement an erudite conversation in a backdrop of books. After all, in iconographical tradition, book is a symbol of power and knowledge.

Faux books are a 19th-century phenomenon, unsurprisingly: born in the century of emerging optical spectacles, curiosity cabinets and all things magical.

Faux books are an Edwardian novelty. Often made of fine jewel-toned leathers with Moroccan leather binding and gold tooling, they usually filled library or study shelves in the homes of the well-to-do. When financial difficulties arose, the faux books were sold to help recoup losses. Cabinetmakers and designers quickly realized the potential in recycling these books-by-the-yard for their decorative and prestige value. Maitland-Smith, the first to incorporate the book motif into modern-day furniture, adheres to many of the norms of library binding in this coffee table and its other book-related items. (Architectural Digest, Volume 61, p 212.)
Maitland-Smith Stacked books coffee table with drawers.
Then there are faux libraries. Many faux libraries might be pointless (library interior in a restaurant?) and/or vain, however British Museum has something different - an entire The Kings Library, Age of Enlightenment exhibition room is composed of replica book spines, produced by FAUX BOOKS: they created exact replica book spines so that genuine books could be placed in environmentally controlled storage.

The newest addition to fake books are, of course, the reading tablet covers, which copy the aesthetics of codex books - sometimes even graphics and library stickers -  to imitate the real covers.

The British Library e-book covers.

Run For Cover PVC e-book covers.

Like that 19th century Parisian, 21st century faux book e-reader-cover owners wish to be seen as the sort of people who own and read books. 


A portrait of a man with an iPad may imply a modern man with a knowledge of technology, but it does not hold the same symbolism as a portrait of a man with a book. Even if it is a fake one.


Architectural Digest, Volume 61, p 212. 

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