A few days ago Bibliophilia tweeted this picture. There have been many inventions and gadgets designed to make reading easier over the centuries, but this one has to take the biscuit in terms of completeness and, frankly, its almost robotic nature and appearance. Bibliophilia’s tweet prompted a little digging.

hollowayreadings00holl_0001This particular beauty was marketed by the Holloway Company in Ohio in the 1880s and 1890s after, as the company’s 10th edition brochure proclaims, “years of experiment and trial”. (The Holloway Company’s brochure has been digitized by the good people at The Internet Archive.) Apparently, it sold well – certainly well enough for the company to keep producing it.

“Book readers”, the company proclaims “know the tiresomeness of holding books in the best position for comfortable reading and the disinclination to lay aside an interesting book to hunt up the dictionary for the pronunciation or definition of unfamiliar words. Such words should be looked up when we meet them.” The ‘Holloway Reading Stand and Dictionary Holder’ was the answer, then, to the reader’s prayers, for it held “the open dictionary by your side, only a turn of the head being required to consult it, while the book you are reading is held open before you”.

Holloway Reading Stand and Dictionary Holder 1890sBooks too heavy to hold when reading? Especially those dang big bibles and encyclopedias? The Holloway Company recognised that “heavy books are little used for want of a suitable holder”. Its Reading Stand came to the rescue. “The Reading Stand will hold them at any angle and it affords a permanent holder for your unabridged dictionary, for ready use” by family and friends. There were also health and safety considerations. Holloways were concerned that “many readers, and especially children, contract the unhealthful habit of bending forward when reading…developing serious diseases of the vital organs and an ungraceful form of the body, while eyesight is not unfrequently impaired by reading from books held at an unsuitable angle or focus.” The Reading Stand and Dictionary Holder solved all these problems, allowing the reader to adopt “a healthful, comfortable position” and making reading “an intellectual luxury”. Nor was the stand for the home only. In the office “where reading is subject to frequent interruption, the hook [on the Stand] may be pushed away from you by the slightest movement of the hand” and the book is “kept open and in place, ready to be resumed at any time”.

The table part of the stand and the reading-book rest were made of wood finished with a polished natural grain while the rest of the contraption was metal “of a light and artistic design, finished in black polished japan, ornamented with first grade of French gold-leaf bronze.” Surely, this was not a device for the masses!

The book rest had an independent circular motion allowing it to be tipped to any pitch by using a small lever – the brochure proudly asserts that there are no thumbscrews! The only physical effort required of the reader was to turn the leaves of the book.

Holloway Reading Stand and Dictionary Holder 1890s

The Reading Stand could also be used as a writing table and made easy the job of taking notes when reading, when adjusted as shown in the picture above.  “The book and magazine racks on the sides will hold six or eight ordinary-sized books…students and writers will find the above use of the stand of great convenience”.

Holloway Reading Stand and Dictionary Holder adjust for use in the care of the sick.It could also be used to assist in the care and entertainment of invalids. Holloways tell their customers that, adjusted for table use, it can be used “for serving refreshments or medicines to invalids sitting or reclining. The table may be quietly turned to or from the bed with a slight push…without moving the stand. Very useful in the sick room”.  And adjusted appropriately, the stand could also facilitate reading two books at once.

Holloway Reading Stand and Dictionary Holder Adjusted to read two books at the same time

Holloway Reading Stand and Dictionary Holder Adjusted to read two books at the same time










And just in case you wanted even more from your Reading Stand, Holloway offered ‘optional extras’ including the addition of an ‘ornamental gold bronze chess board upon [the] upper surface’.

In 1892, the year this particular brochure was produced, the Reading Stand and Dictionary Holder was offered for $14.00 (that’s about $370 today) and could be shipped all over the world.  The addition of the chess board cost a further $1.00, making a grand total of $15.00.

But Holloway were not the only ones to offer the reading public ways to make reading easier, healthier and more enjoyable.  Take a look at a few of these devices!

Book Wheel, 1588

In the late 16th century, engineer Agostino Ramelli described a “book wheel”, a device -admittedly a little large for the average modern home – to enable easy access to several books at once in his The Various and Ingenious Machines of Captain Agostino Ramelli (1588).  Remarkably for the time, the Book Wheel featured multiple shelves built to ensure the books stayed at the right angle as the wheel rotated. It seems he never actually built the machine, spending much of his career designing and making military siege machines.Agostino's Book Wheel 1588


Microfilm Readers, 1935

In 1935 the magazine Everyday Science and Mechanics offered its readers its vision of the future of reading.  Believing that in years to come all books would be stored on microfilm, it published a picture of what might loosely be called a 20th century equivalent of today’s tablet with a glass screen, buttons to turn the pages and hinged screens.

Microfilm Book Reader 1935


All images of the Holloway Reading Stand and Dictionary Holder are courtesy of the Winterthur Library: Printed Book and Periodical Collection via the Internet Archive.