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Construction of Samuel Pepys's Bookshelves -- Among the Earliest Extant

Pepys Library, Magdalene College, Cambridge.

Pepys Library, Magdalene College, Cambridge.

On August 17, 1667 Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

"So took up my wife and home, there I to the office, and thence with Sympson, the joyner home to put together the press he hath brought me for my books this day, which pleases me exceedingly."

and a few days later he wrote:

"and then comes Sympson to set up my other new presses for my books, and so he and I fell into the furnishing of my new closett ... so I think it will be as noble a closett as any man hath."

"The surviving bookcases have paired glazed doors each in 21 small panes, over a low section, also with glazed panes, made to hold large folio volumes. The door of the lower section slide to the side like a sash window, probably Pepys' own invention. The base moldings and cornices are finely and robustly carved with acanthus leaf. Such tall bookcases with doors glazed like paned windows, were a contemporary innovation, but Pepys was alert and curious and well-connected in London, and there is no reason to think his "book-presses" were the very first with glass-paned doors. Pepys began with three or four and kept adding to them until he had twelve" (Wikipedia article on Sympson the joyner, accessed 02-18-2009).

Wormald & Wright, The English Library before 1700 (1958) illustrate as plate 2 a drawing preserved in the Pepysian Library showing how the bookcases were originally arranged in Pepys' house in York Buildings before they were moved to Magdalene College, Cambridge.

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