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Tips for gifting and decorating with antique books

Tips for gifting and decorating with antique books

Have you ever held an antique book in your hands? Taken in its musky, vanilla scent? Ran your fingers across its stamped or embossed cover? Rifled through its pages to see old bookplates, heartfelt inscriptions, folded corners, and underlined words? Seen the worn pages or faded fingerprints and wondered who might have held the book before you?

An antique book is even more than what’s physically present too. My friend Nicole from @wildflower.musings says it best:

“They are as timeless as the rings of an old oak tree… imbuing mystery, telling stories, and perhaps holding wisdom. They move from home to home, person to person, new story to new story. How many lives have touched them? And how many lives have they touched? As trees have stood and lived and weathered through so much time, so too have these antiques. Their wear and imperfectness show you this.”

Antique books are at least a century old. They’ve been held by our ancestors. Traveled hundreds or even thousands of miles. Watched us laugh, and grieve, and learn. And they’ve sat on shelves or been buried in boxes for years and years…

I’ve collected and admired antique books for many years so I’m very happy to be able to breathe new life into these treasures by curating and selling them in my Etsy Shop. This blog will give you tips on how to gift antique books to loved ones, display them as pieces of art in your home, or use them as decor for special events like a wedding.

How to gift an antique book to someone special

In my mind, an antique book is one of the most thoughtful and enchanting gifts you can buy for someone.

You’re gifting a unique piece of history that lived many years before you and will live many years after you. It’s a great gift for someone who already has it all (because it’s unlikely they have this!) or someone who doesn’t usually splurge on something nice for themselves.

The recipient will feel so charmed as you tell them you were reminded of them because of the book binding, title, or something you read inside the book.

Girl reading an antique book from Alison Rose Vintage

Here are some examples on how to gift antique books, including what to say when you gift it.

For a friend or lover: These stunning books of Longfellow Poems reminded me of your beauty and brilliance.  

Pair of 1898 Longfellow Poems books with floral covers


For newlyweds: This Paul and Virginia book about two friends falling in love reminded me of the two of you. I hope you have a beautiful life together.

Antique Paul and Virginia book with rose and gold cover


For a significant other: I hope our love is as timeless as this century-old Love Poems book. Let me read every poem in this book to you to remind you how beautiful and loved you are.

Antique Love Poems book

For a friend or graduate: I found this Music in Art book and thought you would appreciate one of its sentiments, “So inseparably related are music and art to each other, that it would be difficult to consider either by itself. Whether the medium of expression be canvas or marble, poetry or sound, both represent the beautiful—the one making its appeal through the eye, the other through the ear to the heart.”

Antique 1907 Music in Art book


For new parents: This book reminded me of the beautiful child you’re bringing into this world and how loved and adored they're going to be.

Antique A Child's Garden of Verses Book


For a husband or father: Since you were looking for something classy to display on your bookshelf in your new office, I got you these leather and marble books.

Antique leather and marble books


For a friend, sister, or mother: I know you’ve been really exhausted lately, so I got you this book from the 1890s called, “The Technique of Rest”. This quote really hits home, right? “She lives in a perpetual sense of not being able to draw one full breath.” Ugh, I hope this helps!

Antique The Technique of Rest book


For a best friend: The wit in this Love Letters of a Worldly Woman book reminded me of you. When a man asks her to marry him, she writes “Get it off your mind by all means. I would not marry you for the world... It would drive me mad... To live through the long, dull, respectable years with you—no thank you!” haha

Love Letters of a Worldly Woman Book


For someone grieving: Just like a cardinal outside your window, I hope seeing this Song of the Cardinal book reminds you of your loved one.

Antique The Song of the Cardinal book


And the obvious sentiment for someone you know who loves a particular author or book would be… I know you love Shakespeare, or Edgar Allan Poe, or Emerson so here is a special edition I found for you to cherish.

Don't forget to buy a pretty book for yourself from my Etsy shop!

Antique Books from Alison Rose Vintage

How to display antique books as works of art

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” -Marcus Tullius Cicero

If you have a dedicated library in your home, I’m very jealous and I need you to send me photos immediately. But if you don’t quite have that kind of space to display your antique books, there are other ways to make a statement throughout your home.

I personally collect and display a few types of antique books—any book related to flowers, love letters, or travel. And any book with a gorgeous floral or gold gilt spine.

The wall in my bedroom behind my bed has a shelf so I display a lot of my antique books right above my nightstands. I always joke that if the weight becomes too heavy, death by books wouldn’t be so bad, right? :-)

bedroom shelf of antique books


I also have books displayed in my office, the hallway, dining room, and living room. If you have a fireplace mantel, antique books look great mixed with flowers, framed art, and other keepsakes, similar to how Lory from Designthusiasm displays her books here. (Be sure your books aren't too close to any flames, and only put something on top of your books if you're okay with a ring or imprint).

Fireplace mantel with antique books displayed


If you don’t care about the titles of your books or want something with a neutral palette, another great way to display old books is to remove the spines or turn them around. I love how Karen from @pieandpicketfences displays her books next to my word art in her guest bedroom. You can usually find cheap old books like this at a flea market, thrift shop, or garage sale.

Backwards books with hospitality word art

How to incorporate antique books into wedding decor

Are you and your fiancé bookworms? In addition to an antique book being a great engagement, wedding, or anniversary gift, they also make great table centerpieces, wedding arches, or photo props.

At my wedding reception, I made all of my table centerpieces using antique books. I picked titles that had something to do with love, travel, wine (the reception was at a winery), or anything else we loved.

Antique books in wedding reception table centerpiece


Antique books also look great in stylized wedding photos. Just look at the book Amy from bought from my shop and used in one of her photoshoots.

Amy Huang wedding photo with antique book


Antique books make timeless gifts for loved ones (or yourself!) and gorgeous decorative pieces for your home or wedding.

Is there a particular antique book that you like to hunt for? Or a book someone bought you that you just adore? Let me know in the comments or send me a message on social media.

With love,

Alison Rose

Social media: @alisonrosevintage

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