The Handsomest Book Store on Earth

I have ephemera touting various book stores as "the best," "the biggest," or "the cheapest." But I've come across only one book store that made the following claim:

The Handsomest Book Store on Earth

And that would be the St. Paul Book and Stationery Co., at Fifth and St. Peter Streets in St. Paul Minnesota, according to the postal history below:

 This 1895 ad cover for the book store claims its superior physical beauty, yet refrains from an illustrated representation of the premises on its business stationery. Did handsome apply to the exterior, interior, or both? What were the criteria for such a superlative?

Many other postal covers I've seen for like establishments have included illustrations of the building in which they set up shop. St. Paul Book and Stationery Co. chose to use that space on the front cover of the envelope to tell you something about their business. I would argue that was much better use of the space.

Instead of looking at the handsomest book store you ever saw, you could learn something about the business, which just might lead to your patronage in that handsome space. 

You could learn about the kinds of books they stocked, their ability to help you start a home or school library, the stationery products and engraving services offered, the variety of office supplies on hand, and maps, globes, and charts, as well as other desirable school supplies.

And if you decided to visit their store, I suppose you'd just have to judge for yourself how handsome the place was and if it lived up to their claim as the handsomest. 

In an 1889 edition of Caspar's Directory of the American Book, News and Stationery Trade, I found an entry for St. Paul Book and Stationery Co., which indicated that the business got started in 1879 under that name, but its origins went back to 1859 under different ownership.But I haven't been able to find an image for the shop at the address on the cover above.

In absence of any evidence to the contrary, they get the benefit of the doubt for having been the handsomest book store on earth.

For now.


  1. I know I am biased but currently the handsomest bookstore on earth is the Midtown Scholar in Harrisburg Pennsylvania which made creative use of a late 20th century clothing store. With mural, bell, and a coffee bar, it is in fact a very handsome bookstore.

    What is your next entry about? I am a great fan.

    Ed Papenfuse, Maryland State Archivist Emeritus

    1. Thanks, Ed, for the kind comments! I've done business a time or two with Midtown Scholar, but not had the pleasure of visiting in person.

      I've been derelict in my blogging duties the last year or so, but have several drafts in the pipeline, one of which concerns a letter from an obscure English author with ties to some interesting literary history in England in the 19th century. In recent years, he's gotten more recognition than he ever did in 1810s/20s London. Stay tuned...

  2. St. Paul Book and Stationery went out of business some years ago, although I remember shopping there in the 1970s. It's location at that time could not be described as "handsome." For the record, here is an image of the older store from the Minnesota Historical Society.
    St. Paul Book and Stationery

    1. I hope better late than never... Reviewing old blog posts, I came across your comments with the great old images of the book store. My apologies for overlooking this a few years ago and my thanks for the images! Much appreciated!

    2. My pleasure. (I wish I could go back and change "it's" to "its" in my post - I'm not sure how that slipped by....)


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