Giant Illuminated Koran
Giant Illuminated Koran

Decidedly large books are actually commonplace. Many households will have a hefty hardback atlas stowed away somewhere that’s gathering dust and gradually becoming more and more obsolete as the world’s borders and nations continue to change.

Octavo (9 inches x 6 inches) and quarto (12 x 9.5) are the most common sizes for books, but there are also elephant folios (up to 23 inches tall), atlas folios (25 inches tall), and the whopping double elephant folios (50 inches tall). As printing technologies developed in the 19th century, larger books became easier to publish although they remained expensive and luxurious.

Today’s elephant folios are far more affordable. They feature eye-catching art and photography, and are usually classified as coffee-table books.

However, there is a large array of beautiful and rare elephant folio-sized books from the past – some were privately printed and some are limited editions. The most famous big book of recent years is Bhutan: A Visual Odyssey across the Last Himalayan Kingdom by Michael Hawley – it is 5 feet x 7 feet, and you would need a heavy-duty lorry and a crew of strong-armed helpers to get it home from the bookshop. Imagine if it slipped – one of your friends could become the first person to be crushed to death by a book. Sadly, we don’t have this book for sale but several booksellers offer a much smaller reprint.

Selection of Elephant Folio-sized Rare Books

Les Chefs-D’Oeuvre D’Art au Luxembourg edited by Eugene Montrosier
Les Chefs-D’Oeuvre D’Art au Luxembourg
edited by Eugene Montrosier

1881. Elephant folio (17.5" x 13.25") in red cloth with titles and decorations in black and gilt.

Battles and Commanders of the Civil War by Joseph Marcus Wright
Battles and Commanders of the Civil War
(sold)
by Joseph Marcus Wright

An oversized illustrated history of the American Civil War, printed in 1902.

A Portfolio of Royal Descents
A Portfolio of Royal Descents
(sold)

Self-published in 1902, this book traces the lines of England & Scotland’s royal families.

The Turner Gallery by Ralph Nicholson Wornum
The Turner Gallery
by Ralph Nicholson Wornum

Contains 60 engravings. Elephant folio from 1875 with portrait frontispiece of the English artist.

Georgia O’Keeffe
Georgia O’Keeffe

Elephant folio from 1976 – 106 colour plates with accompanying text by the artist.
Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

Edward FitzGerald’s famed translation, drawings by Elihu Vedder. Elephant folio from 1884.
Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Faust
by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Brown leather elephant folio elaborately decorated and illustrated in gold.
Puteshetvie Tsesarvicha Na Vostok by Prince Esper Esperovich Ukhtomsky
Puteshetvie Tsesarvicha Na Vostok
by Prince Esper Esperovich Ukhtomsky

3-volume set in elephant folio, translates as Journey to the Orient of Tsarevich.
Birds of America by John James Audubon
Birds of America
by John James Audubon

Abbeville’s double elephant folio from 1985 celebrating 200th anniversary of Audubon’s birth.
World’s Columbian Exposition: Art & Architecture by William Walton
World’s Columbian Exposition: Art & Architecture
by William Walton

4-volume set from 1893, elephant folio sized at 24 inches x 16 inches.
Raphael: Stanza Della Segnatura introduction by Bartolomeo Nogara
Raphael: Stanza Della Segnatura introduction
by Bartolomeo Nogara

Published by Vatican Press in 1950 detailing Raphael’s frescoes in the Vatican.
Japan: Her Strength, Her Beauty
Japan: Her Strength, Her Beauty

1904 elephant folio illustrated by a group of famous artists.
World Geographic Atlas by Herbert Bayer
World Geographic Atlas
by Herbert Bayer

Privately printed in 1953 – a prime example of 20th century Modernist book design.
The Decorative Art of Leon Bakst
The Decorative Art of Leon Bakst

Published by the Fine Art Society in 1913, bound in vellum, elephant folio.
Jazz in LA by Robert Willowby
Jazz in LA
by Robert Willowby

1991 elephant folio edition – photography from the 1950’s Los Angeles’ jazz scene.
Three Poems by Octavio Paz
Three Poems
by Octavio Paz

Illustrated by Robert Motherwell, an elephant folio bound in cream linen.
Travel Posters by Bevis Hillier
Travel Posters
(sold)
by Bevis Hillier

1976. Collection of large reproductions from the golden age of travel posters (1890-1960).
The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales
by Geoffrey Chaucer

First printed in 1967 & then again in 1978. Later editions are signed by illustrator Ronald King.
Selknam: Body Painting in the Snow illustrated by Martin Gusinde & translated by Peter Mason
Selknam: Body Painting in the Snow
(sold)
illustrated by Martin Gusinde & translated by Peter Mason

Elephant folio. Photography of the native people from Tierra del Fuego in 1923.
Himalayas by Yoshikazu Shirakawa
Himalayas
by Yoshikazu Shirakawa

Stunning elephant folio photography book first published in 1971

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