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Coffee table books: A brief history and more

Coffee table books history

Do you like to read? Or would you rather scan big, beautiful photos? If you want a mix of the two, then a coffee table book is a great choice. Below is more about this type of book, from its purpose to its history.

What exactly is a coffee table book?

A coffee table book is exactly what it sounds like; it is a book that is meant to display on a table for those who stop by to thumb through it.

Perhaps you see these types of books at a professional’s office or have a few at home. They can be about a range of topics, from architecture to fashion. Before looking at the history of coffee table books, let’s focus on their purpose.

Why do coffee table books exist?

You might be wondering what the purpose is for these books for display. A major reason for them is to spark conversation when people visit your home or business. They can help pass the time, provide entertainment, and you’ll probably learn a few things too!

They can help prevent uncomfortable silences in groups, for sure. Often they have large images (photographs or illustrations) within them that make for ease of reading and visual interest.

Also, the best coffee table book is one that matches the design of the room. It can become a type of decor. For example, if your room has a vintage look, consider a book that focuses on artwork from the 1800s. Or, a modern theme suits a book on style or portraits of celebrities.

How did coffee table books first start?

So, how did these books come to be? Some people credit David Brower for inventing the modern version of the coffee table book. He had the idea to create books that combined large photographs with words about nature while he was working at the Sierra Club. The first book was published in 1960; it was titled “This is the American Earth.” It featured photos by Ansel Adams, among others, and words by Nancy Newhall.

In 1961, the term “coffee table book” was used in Arts Magazine. The following year, the term was part of a book’s title (The Coffee Table Book of Astrology). These types of books became mass-produced, becoming more common to see amongst magazines spread across the table. It’s nice to have the variety!

Since then, they have grown vastly in popularity over the years around the globe. While some people display them, others love flipping through them. You can look at them again and again! It’s no wonder they are a big hit worldwide.

Coffee table books can be casual and fun or focus on serious topics instead. Change then up, displaying what you want as the mood strikes you. These publishing marvels can bring attention to important issues, such as helping the environment or women’s rights.

Today, they make great gifts and light reading. The books cover so many genres, from fashion to art and history. They become decor in addition to providing interest in the visuals on the pages inside. So, they appeal to a range of people.

A personal take on these reads

Perhaps what I find most interesting about coffee table books is that they say a lot about the person who displays them. They might show your personal style, a hobby you like, your political viewpoint, and what’s important to you. It’s a way to find out more about someone you’ve just met or have known for years.

I also like that they still exist in a growing digital environment. Many publishers offer eBooks now, but sometimes it’s still nice to hold a physical book and flip through its pages. It’s somehow very satisfying. I admit to liking the smell of books too! Are you the same?

There is also something wonderful about how these books combine art with decor. They are both stylish and artistic, as well as educating us with their words.

Perhaps you’ll think about choosing one as a gift or for yourself soon. It is a fun present that the recipient can open again and again. If you really want to make the gift a hit, why not wrap it in newsprint or sheets taped together from an old magazine?

Over to You

If you could only have one book on display in your home, what would it be about? History, politics, art, architecture, or…? I’m a big Celine Dion fan so I think mine would be about her. Over to you, wonderful readers!

12 thoughts on “Coffee table books: A brief history and more”

  1. I have displayed a coffee table book since my very first apartment. The contents usually steer toward art but my current coffee table book is about Marilyn Monroe, courtesy of my daughter. I agree with you on the feel and smell of a book. Nothing compares.

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