‘The library whereof the librarian is deceit’: Decoration and double meaning at Mount Stewart House

False books at Mount StewartCommissioned by the National Trust in 2016, Ed Potten undertook a research project on the architectural history of the library at Mount Stewart House.

There is a long history of obfuscation in libraries, from small deceits practised on single books to large-scale trompe-l’œil, encompassing whole rooms. The reasons for such deceptions were as varied as the practices employed, but the use of false books – decorative spines created by a bookbinder to fill a gap, usually on a jib door – was common. Due to the long tradition of light-hearted punning and wordplay found on counterfeit books, they are viewed primarily as a conceit or a piece of library frippery. The recent re-examination of a set of false spines produced c.1805 for a set of library shutters at Mount Stewart, however, suggests that occasionally they conceal a more subtle form of double meaning, and that their study can reveal much about the cultural, social and intellectual milieu in which they were produced.

The fruits of this research were published in Apollo’s special issue for 2017, dedicated to Mount Stewart:


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