Big & Beautiful: Collectible Elephant Folio Books
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 truck 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.
For more book-related terms, visit the AbeBooks Glossary.
Selection of Elephant Folio-sized Rare Books
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.
Battles and Commanders of the Civil War
by Joseph Marcus Wright
An oversized illustrated history of the American Civil War, printed in 1902.
A Portfolio of Royal Descents
Self-published in 1902, this book traces the lines of England & Scotland’s royal families.
The Turner Gallery
by Ralph Nicholson Wornum
Contains 60 engravings. Elephant folio from 1875 with portrait frontispiece of the English artist.
Elephant folio from 1976 – 106 color plates with accompanying text by the artist.
Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
Edward FitzGerald’s famed translation, drawings by Elihu Vedder. Elephant folio from 1884.
by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Brown leather elephant folio elaborately decorated and illustrated in gold.
Puteshetvie Tsesarvicha Na Vostok
by Prince Esper Esperovich Ukhtomsky
3-volume set in elephant folio, translates as Journey to the Orient of Tsarevich.
Birds of America
by John James Audubon
Abbeville’s double elephant folio from 1985 celebrating 200th anniversary of Audubon’s birth.
World’s Columbian Exposition: Art & Architecture
by William Walton
4-volume set from 1893, elephant folio sized at 24 inches x 16 inches.
Raphael: Stanza Della Segnatura introduction
by Bartolomeo Nogara
Published by Vatican Press in 1950 detailing Raphael’s frescoes in the Vatican.
Japan: Her Strength, Her Beauty
1904 elephant folio illustrated by a group of famous artists.
World Geographic Atlas
by Herbert Bayer
Privately printed in 1953 – a prime example of 20th century Modernist book design.
The Decorative Art of Leon Bakst
Published by the Fine Art Society in 1913, bound in vellum, elephant folio.
Jazz in LA
by Robert Willowby
1991 elephant folio edition – photography from the 1950’s Los Angeles’ jazz scene.
by Octavio Paz
Illustrated by Robert Motherwell, an elephant folio bound in cream linen.
by Bevis Hillier
1976. Collection of large reproductions from the golden age of travel posters (1890-1960).
The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales
by Geoffrey Chaucer
First printed in 1967 & then again in 1978. Later editions are signed by illustrator Ronald King.
Selknam: Body Painting in the Snow
illustrated by Martin Gusinde & translated by Peter Mason
Elephant folio. Photography of the native people from Tierra del Fuego in 1923.
by Yoshikazu Shirakawa
Stunning elephant folio photography book first published in 1971