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.
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.
An oversized illustrated history of the American Civil War, printed in 1902.
Contains 60 engravings. Elephant folio from 1875 with portrait frontispiece of the English artist.