Mute Books that Speak Volumes

Reproduction of French Revolution-era Books with Plain Covers

You all know that old saying, the one about not judging a book by its cover, right? Well, I happened across some online French Revolution-era reproductions of books, with plain covers, that struck me as rather interesting.

The description of this product runs as follows:

Grand Tomes (Set of 3)

During the French Revolution, reading was forbidden in order to prevent the spread of rebellious stories about the monarchy. During that time, printers produced couverture muette or “mute books” – books with blank covers – to avoid detection. Paying homage to those historic 18th-century tomes, these exquisite books are entirely crafted by hand, from the torn paper and simple cover boards to the naturally stained linen bindings and timeworn labels. The only difference? The pages within are blank.

What’s so interesting to me about these “muted books” is the strategic reversal: an historical artifact that once protected dangerous content by means of an unsignified cover now, instead, has utterly blank content and a plain cover that speaks loudly of antiquity, culture, and learning — at least to those who place them around their living rooms or dens.

But despite the curious reversal, all anyone does with these books is hope that people judge them by their covers: whether disguising once dangerous ideas or putting one over on our guests.

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