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What is a Barrister Bookcase?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 16, 2024
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The barrister bookcase is a traditional shelving unit that is distinguished by a clear glass front. Originating in Great Britain, this bookcase has the advantage of being easy to secure to a wall, or several units may be stacked to create the look of an attractive cabinet. The choices of wood, glass, and hardware can give a barrister bookcase a simple or ornate appearance, depending on the preferences of the owner.

One of the attractions of the barrister bookcase is that the construction helps to provide a greater degree of protection than many types of bookshelves. The glass doors help to limit the amount of dust that can settle on the books, which will help to keep the book collection in better overall shape. Along with protecting the books from dust, it is also possible to outfit the doors with tempered glass that helps to minimize the impact of sunlight on the spines of the books, effectively helping to keep the color of the bindings from fading.

While antique bookcases can be quite expensive, there are a number of manufacturers that produce replica editions as well as modernized versions at reasonable prices. Some versions are very simple in appearance, and will fit in well with a number of different decorating themes. It is not unusual for a homeowner to purchase one or more bookcases of this type, trim them with crown molding that is like that used elsewhere in the room, and create a customized storage source for very little cost. Because the bookcase can easily be stacked, it is possible to use the barrister bookcase to create interesting wall units, sofa tables, or even a breakfront for a dining area.

Finding different versions of the barrister bookcase is not difficult. Many antique shops will have elegant models for sale. High-end retailers who cater to office and home furnishing needs will also have several models of this bookcase for sale. In addition, it may be possible to locate the ideal barrister bookcase for sale online or at an estate sale.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including HomeQuestionsAnswered, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By manykitties2 — On Oct 04, 2011

@Sara007 - If you want to improve the look of your barrister bookcase, I wouldn't try etching the glass myself, as you can easily damage the glass. What I would do is just buy some stick on glass decorations.

You can buy decorative stickers for glass at most home improvement stores, so you can easily frost the glass, or add a simple design to it without having to commit to anything major. Plus, you can easily change the stickers if you get bored of the look.

I have some nice glass shelving in my house, and I used the stickers to create frosted vines running up the glass, and I really like the look.

By Sara007 — On Oct 04, 2011

There was recently a sale at my local furniture store and I managed to pick up a really nice wood barrister bookcase for half of its original price. I really liked the glass front because it makes it easier to keep my books and collectibles clean, without having to dust as much.

I am curious though, has anyone tried adding decoration to the glass of your barrister bookcase?

I found a glass etching kit at the mall and would like to add some designs to my bookcase so it isn't so plain looking. I find it looks a bit too severe right now when compared with the rest of my furniture. I really don't want to damage the bookcase though, so I am a bit scared to try the etching.

By honeybees — On Oct 04, 2011

My husband is a very good woodworker and has completed many beautiful projects. I have always loved the stately look of barrister bookcases, but found them to be more expensive than what I wanted to pay.

One year when my husband asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I told him I would like for him to make me a barrister bookcase.

We went online and looked at several barrister bookcase plans before deciding on the style we liked best.

I think that oak barrister bookcase is one of my favorite things in my whole house. It has a light stain on it that blends in well with the other oak furniture I have and holds most all of my books.

By sunshined — On Oct 03, 2011

Being a lover of good books, I also enjoy having beautiful ways of storing and displaying them. I have an ornate mahogany barrister bookcase that I picked up at an estate sale.

I fell in love with this bookcase the moment I saw it and was able to get it at a good price. I only wish there had been more than one of them so I could have a matching set and fit more of my books in them.

Not only does this bookcase look beautiful, but also is very functional. The glass doors do help keep the dust off the shelves and the books a little bit more protected.

I have this bookcase in a small reading area I have in my house. Surrounded by lots of books and comfortable chairs is where I feel right at home.

By elizabeth23 — On Oct 03, 2011

I was at an antique store the other day and saw a really lovely cherry wood barrister bookcase. It looked a little expensive for me, but it was a great piece of furniture, such a classic look. I think I may buy it after all.

By accordion — On Oct 02, 2011

@FernValley- My sister has some for a similar reason. Her kids are both under the age of five, and these bookcases let her showcase things but keep them out of her children's reach. Hers are also a kind of stackable wood barrister bookcase. I think they might be from Ikea too, or some other place like that- they look nice, but were definitely not super pricey or made to last forever.

By FernValley — On Oct 01, 2011

I have some bookcases like this, though I got them at Ikea, not anywhere fancy or remotely British. They are nice though, I like that I can put more delicate things on the shelves along with books, and my cats can't as easily find them and knock them over.

By anon31144 — On Apr 30, 2009

i have a bookcase that was made by macey. not the long y but a shorter one on macey. they are numbered but not in order? does it affect the history of it and the appraisal of it? i know it's been with my dad over 50 years. i love antiques and when daddy died i got it. 4 shelves # 98,98,910,and 912. loved it since a child. any help would be wonderful? thanks, reka stephens

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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