A Look Into the History of the Beloved Coffee Table Book

92% of college students prefer real-life print coffee table book than online digital books. Surprised? For many people, the digitization of information would render print moot. But It seems that the advent of digital books has not lessened the value of physical copies, but actually made them more appreciated.

The physical books people own are an indication of what’s important to them and what they’re interested in. A coffee table book, in particular, is a way for people to point guests and visitors towards an understanding of their personality and taste.

coffee table book

So common and often overlooked, coffee table books are a staple object in living rooms across the country and world. But where did the idea of coffee table books come from and what is their history?

What Exactly Is a Coffee Table Book?

Coffee table book design generally consists of an oversized, hardcover printing. They tend to focus on large, visually impactful images and only have captions or small blocks of text.

The sky is the limit when it comes to the subject matter of coffee table books. Common topics include travel and landscape photography, art, nature, and fashion.

Text-dominant books tend to be read in an introverted, solitary way. Coffee table books, on the other hand, exist with more of a social purpose. They are often displayed in a central, public space (i.e. on a coffee table.) Their visual nature allows and encourages several people to look at the book together.

While many books are printed to be informative or narrative, coffee table books are often printed to be admired.

Coffee table books exist as a conversation starter in social situations and as a way to pass the time. They are also often used as design pieces in themselves, with their aesthetic beauty and style contributing to the feel and tone of a room.

Successful coffee table books consist of page after page of visual inspiration. They stir the imagination of the viewer and lift their spirit. They exist as worlds in themselves.

The oversized images of coffee table books transport the viewers to another realm. The sparse text leaves the imagination unconfined and free to roam where it wishes.

Coffee table books are works of art in their own right, containing curated photographs, illustrations, and visuals.

Why Are Coffee Table Books Still Relevant in an Increasingly Digital World?

News stories and articles always rag on contemporary Americans for being screen-obsessed. Regardless, coffee table books may be more relevant now than ever. Reacting to a digital world, beautiful, physical print material is more valued and prized than ever.

In 21st century America, so much is digital and ethereal. Therefore, it’s more important to us than ever to hold something of value in our hands and not be viewing it on a screen. To physically own something and keep it in your home indicates that you see it as meaningful and collectible.

The demographic of people who buy coffee table books is incredibly diverse. This mirrors the diverse subject matter encompassed by coffee table books. Coffee table books reflect people’s personality and their interests, tastes, style, and aspiration.

Because it’s so common to own books digitally, the physical books we keep in our rooms carry a strong message about who we are, our individuality.

The best coffee table books for your particular interests and tastes could cover a wide range of subjects or narrow in on a specific niche topic. It’s completely up to you!

Coffee table books are a strong signifier of our specific tastes. Why not create a custom coffee table book to display in your home? It’s a unique way to share your acquired and refined tastes with your guests.

What Is the History of Coffee Table Books?

The coffee table books that we know and love came into existence in the mid 20th century. In the late 1940s, publishers began printing large folio and quarto format art books. The term “coffee table book,” however, was used in Britain as early as the 1800s.

Mention of the idea of a book intended for display rather than to be read thoroughly dates back all the way to 1581, in an essay by Michel de Montaigne. This quote was referenced again almost 200 years later in 1759 by a novelist Laurence Sterne.

Some people give credit to the concept of the modern-day coffee table book to David Brower. He was the executive director of the Sierra Club from 1952 to 1969.

His idea was to print books with large format images of nature photography combined with nature writing. Some people consider these to be the first iteration of the coffee table book.

In post-War America, affordable and cheap coffee table books became more available. Homemakers were then able to use them as a design and conversation piece in their sitting rooms.

Coffee Table Books Carry a Special Significance in Our Digital World

The concept of a book used for display has been around for centuries. But the coffee table books we know and love today have been in print for a little less than a hundred years. In the modern digital era, coffee table books have taken on new significance and importance as an object displayed in our homes.

If you’re interested in making your own coffee table bookclick here for an instant quote for printing your very own hardcover books. And don’t forget to check out the rest of our blog for more great articles on book printing!

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