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Where to find the best antique bookcases for sale

Where to find the best antique bookcases for sale


There’s nothing quite like the smell of old books. Or antique bookcases, for that matter. Like a warm, mahogany back rub, they fill you with a wonder and nostalgia that could never possibly be equalled with modern furniture. 

They’re living shrines to the past - and, despite being some of the most expensive antiques ever made - are surprisingly affordable today. As always, knowledge gives us the power to make the best investments. From antique small bookcases to grand Queen Annes, here are the most notable antique bookcases for sale, including how to spot an imposter.

Different types of antique bookcases for sale

Bookcase buffs will know that the crème de la crème in antique bookcases is a set of 12 antique oak bookcases made for English diarist Samuel Pepys in the 1660s. There may be plenty of antique library bookcases for sale, but these were one of the first recorded to be made for a private individual. They live in the Pepys Library in Magdalene College, Cambridge, but quality late Victorian or Edwardian copies can go for up to £6,000 at auction. 

Georgian bookcases

Georgian bookcases became larger in size by the 18th century. The earliest larger designs are known as Queen Annes - these simple antique walnut bookcases are still plentiful for collectors to buy today. Many antique mahogany bookcases came into style in the 1740s. More flamboyant in decoration and often with small secretaire drawers for writing on, these pieces can reach nine feet in height and sell for well over £50,000 today. Depending on what was in-vogue, they came with all kinds of Gothic, Rococo or Classical designs and motifs. 

Regency bookcases

During the Regency period (1811-1820), it became fashionable to adorn walls with paintings. Consequently, homeowners desired lower pieces of furniture. Farewell tallboys, goodbye Queen Anne… hello antique small bookcases. This had been a long time coming: bookcases had been getting smaller since the 1780s. Most had up to five shelves and a couple of thin drawers.

Regency bookcases were generally made from mahogany or pine, but can be also found in rosewood and satinwood. A pair of late antique open bookcases from the 1820s crafted in a plain mahogany can fetch between £6,000 to £8,000. On their own, you’re looking at around £2,500 to £3,500 each. 

Antique revolving bookcases

The late 18th century is to thank for antique revolving bookcases - wonderful pieces with variable-sized tiers that get smaller towards the top, a bit like a wedding cake. Square revolving antique mahogany bookcases came about in the 1890s, more than likely intended for schools or public libraries. They’re perfectly functional and affordable in homes today: plain antique oak bookcases in this style with cast-iron feet go for £200-£300. Rectangular antique revolving bookcases from 1900 can cost between £600 and £800, while earlier Georgian antique revolving bookcases sell for around £5,000. 

How to spot fake antique bookcases for sale

Many antique bookcases for sale are fakes. On the untrained eye, it may not be immediately apparent that a pair of antique stacking bookcases were once wardrobes, for example. Or that those Edwardian bookcases for sale have actually been cut down in size, for another.

Look carefully at glazing and glass. Antique bookcases for sale with solid glazed bars and rectangular panes are likely pre-1730 (reproductions aside). Anything with astragal glazed bars that divide hexagonal or panes in any other shape will have been crafted between 1730 and 1800. Antique bookcases for sale from the 1920s onwards will have wire grills, which allowed books ‘breathing’ space. 

To check whether a bookcase has spent a previous life as a wardrobe, it might be a simple case of identifying new bits of wood, glazing bars or glass. Can you see any old catches or hinges? Any odd-looking holes left by hooks? These can all give the game away for fakers.

Where to find antique bookcases for sale

Leave no stone unturned when investing in a genuine antique bookcase - go to see it in person. Hemswell Antique Centres bring together Europe’s largest collection of dealers, many who specialise in antique bookcases. 

Take a look at our selection of antique bookcases for sale before your visit, with peace of mind you’re buying genuine, quality pieces. Be aware that only 10% of our items for sale are shown on our website. 

Whether you’re looking for antique stacking bookcases or want to browse our pine pieces (head to our dealer display in Building Two and Three for the latter), the best way to experience our vast world of antiques is getting lost in it. All kinds of furniture, collectables and bygone treasures are displayed across four separate and historic buildings in lovely Lincoln. Here’s how to find us.

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