Things I Love: Antique Book Covers

Three from my collection of antique books.

Three from my collection of antique books


When my church cleared out its library a while back, I found myself in a large hall that I quickly renamed “Book Lover Heaven.” With a history of almost 80 years, the church’s members had contributed books which had publish dates that spanned a century. I scooped up as many as I could.

And there were plenty of gorgeous editions like these. Aren’t they lovely?

I haven’t looked for any information about the book covers of this era (late 1800’s), but I imagine that, since they were the main source of entertainment, books were also seen as items with which to beautify the home. Most homes set aside a room or area for the family “library,” and reading a book was a regular and coveted activity. A beautiful book cover enhanced the experience, much like a floral porcelain cup would add to a pleasurable afternoon tea.

Along with beauty on the outside, I found that most of these old books usually included another type of beauty on the inside: the handwritten inscription.

Like these:

Pilgrim's Progress, Black Beauty, and In His Steps

In his steps, black beauty, and Pilgrim’s Progress, copies printed around 1900

In His Steps (Charles Sheldon) – Ellen Thompson, From Florence, Dec. 25, 1900

Black Beauty (Anna Sewell)  – To Ralph, From Papa and Mama, April 18, 1897

Pilgrim’s Progress (John Bunyan) – To Jacob (illegible), From Mr. and Mrs. (illegible), June 23, 1900

Try to imagine Ellen, Ralph, and Jacob receiving these books. Were the books brand new or were they passed on from a friend or family member? Did they appreciate the covers or was the look simply the norm of the day? What was happening in their lives, and how did they feel about a new century headed their way? How did they feel about the people who wrote the inscriptions?

My favorite is Ellen’s. She received her book on the first Christmas of the new century.


To see more antique book covers, visit this Pinterest board with its hundreds of pins.

Do you have any books like these in your library?


Darla McDavid

I'm Darla, a writer of stories about family, friends, goodness, and God. I love cats, coffee, gardening, and tall stacks of books. Click here to subscribe to my blog. You can also find me on Facebook and Instagram. In my other life, I'm an administrative professional and a Sunday School teacher for preschoolers.

2 Comments Write a comment

  1. Oh, Darla, I also love antique book covers. My favorites came as a set I found in a shoe box for $5 at the closing of an old school house/converted to a small-town lending library. The 5 books are bound in faded red hard covers lettered in gold print. SHORT STORIES TO READ AND LOVE, STORIES THAT TEACH IMPORTANT LESSONS, POEMS OF LOVE AND LOSS, POEMS OF HOPE AND JOY, and ESSAYS TO MAKE YOU THINK. I’d never heard of the publisher, the pub. date is 1924, there’s no inscription and many of the pages have been stained, faded or torn, but I love this set.


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