Books have been around for a long time, but the introduction of the printing press in the 15th century transformed books from luxury objects that only the very wealthy could afford into almost mundane things, present in every home. But in our lifetimes we're witnessing another technological revolution: the advent of the e-book, which makes traditional books seem, at best, a bit of a throwback, and at worst, obsolete. This had has, I think, a really interesting effect on the design of books: just like folks in the middle ages, we are once again starting to see them more as cherished objects and less as utilities.
As the value of books as sources of information has declined (because just look it up on Wikipedia, right?), the value of books as tactile objects, even as works of art, has increased. To own a book in its physical form seems in a way indulgent, almost luxurious, and manufacturers of books are capitalizing on that by making the experience of holding and reading books more pleasurable than ever before. Not since the illuminated manuscripts of the middle ages has more attention been paid to the aesthetic experience of book reading.
If you're a bibliophile like myself you may be worried about what the ascendance of the e-book means for reading in general — but it's hard to argue that we're living in a sort of golden age when it comes to book design. Just look at these examples of beautiful volumes. I only wish I had enough money, and enough shelf space, for them all.
Above: The In Bloom collection, $64 from Rifle Paper Co.
Juniper Books doesn't actually publish books — instead, they create custom dust jackets for series of books, turning them into miniature works of art. Frankly, I wouldn't mind owning all of their collections, but I'm especially drawn to this Anne of Green Gables set, which is available for $165.
This beautifully pacakaged set of the complete works of William Faulkner is available from Juniper Books for $250.
This lovely hardcover edition of To Kill a Mockingbird ($22.50) is one of Barnes & Noble's collectible editions. They have plenty of other titles available, including classics like Moby Dick and newer titles like Jurassic Park.
Puffin classics makes these beautiful hardcover editions of well-loved childrens' books. This image is from Read the Bloody Book; you can buy a set that includes 10 of the books pictured above from Amazon for $149.99 (and you can also purchase the individual books on their own).
Penguin's clothbound classics have a bit of an old-school feel, but with lovely, modern graphic covers and spines.
Picador's series of modern classics features more recent titles you won't find in these other collections, packaged beautifully in tiny little books that are just the right size to fit in your hand. Image from Michael J Seidlinger.