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commonplace books

A Short History of Commonplace Books

Guild member Ursula Jeakins is a bookbinder and the only person in the UK making Commonplace Books. We asked her about the origin of these delightful books and her association with them.

The word commonplace comes from the Greek koinos topos, meaning ‘general theme’. It’s a term from the practice of rhetoric – if you came across something that sounded good, you would write it down to use later in a speech. All sorts of famous people have kept Commonplace Books including John Milton, Napoleon Bonaparte, Lewis Carroll and Virginia Woolf, but they were also kept by ordinary people and have been a popular form of notebook for many centuries.

Ursula got started making these books whilst listening to the ‘Death of Nuance’ series with Guardian journalist Oliver Burkeman on BBC Radio 4. In the final programme, Burkeman interviewed a professor of linguistics who recommended that people take up the practice of commonplacing again, since the more we write down the things we think are well-expressed and worth remembering, the richer our lives become and the richer our own language becomes.

Commonplacing has become popular in the US and is increasingly so in the UK. Lifestyle and book blogger Miranda Mills has published a series of seasonal commonplace book guides for her followers.

A Commonplace Book makes an excellent gift, as you don’t have to worry about what the recipient is going to use it for! Start by simply copying in a favourite poem and then keep on adding to it bit by bit, so it becomes a personal record compiled over a number of years.

We are pleased to stock Ursula’s Commplace Books in our shop in Cheltenham.

You can find out more about Ursula and her practice here.

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