Ian Berke collectionAmerican Stone Books

Carved stone books are a fascinating and unusual form of American folk art. They were given as tokens of affection, and the most interesting have inscriptions and carving. Often there are first names, usually female. Full names are much less common presumably because the giver likely knew the recipient well. Dates appear as well, which indicates the popularity of these books decade by decade. The first American stone books show up about 1860, including books carved by soldiers during the Civil War, but seem to be most popular from 1870 to 1900. The latest in this collection is from 1931. Judging from the quality of much of the carving, many books were probably made by professional stonecutters or monument makers. Others were obviously done by amateurs. Some were intended as souvenirs, to be sold to tourists at attractions such as Garden of the Gods (Colorado).

Typically stone books were carved from marble, often white, because it was widely available and easy to carve compared with igneous rocks. Slate, sandstone, limestone, agate, and pipestone are also seen. They are almost always carved in a closed position, and it was probably understood that many represented Bibles. Religious iconography (crosses, anchors, etc.) is often seen, with many books having the word Bible or Holy Bible incised on the cover. Clasped hands are also relatively common. Animals, flowers, vines, and other motifs are seen as well. At least half of the stone books I have seen are blank, which I no longer collect unless the stone itself is unusual.

The stone books illustrated and described on this site are in my collection and show the extraordinary range of design and carving. All books were photographed on a one inch grid for scale. Click on the images for full size views and data. There are about 365 books posted as of July 2015, which I will try to update periodically. The books are cataloged in order of acquisition, rather than by common motif or maker. I hope you enjoy these tiny time travelers as much as I love them.

Click here for a much longer article about stone books published in the April 2015 issue of the Maine Antique Digest. Feel free to contact me with questions or books for sale.

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