British Museum’s Wheel of Books Attracts Gawkers

In English Language by Roger Tagholm

The British Museum bookshop's wheel of books has become something of a tourist attraction for literati.

The British Museum bookshop’s “Wheel of Books.”

A new display at the recently refurbished bookshop at the British Museum in London, The Wheel of Books, has become a tourist attraction for literati.

By Roger Tagholm

All bricks and mortar booksellers need to get noticed, need to make people stop a minute and want to come through the doors. The newly refurbished bookshop at the British Museum in London has tackled this challenge enthusiastically and come up with a unique solution, one that is probably even eliciting the odd droll comment from the famously stern-faced sphinxes in the Egyptian galleries close by.

East London-based Lumsden Design has created a two-meter diameter ‘wheel of books’ for the bookshop’s window, a structure that has been causing visitors to pause ever since it was installed last month. It stands nearly seven-feet tall, contains 270 real books and looks like a literary version of one of the living, natural sculptures by British artist Andy Goldsworthy, the man who hangs circles of leaves from branches and creates free standing sculptures out of loose stones.

It is certainly working, judging by recent reactions. “Hey honey, we could try this at home,” said one US visitor earlier this week. “Are they glued together or what?” said another. “Cool,” exclaimed a party of visiting school children, while their teachers anxiously counted heads.  

Wheel of books 2The work is part of a project by Lumsden that looked at all the Museum’s shops in the glorious, light-filled Great Court that sweeps around the famous Reading Room. “Each shop required a unique look aimed at their multiple target markets,” said Creative Director Callum Lamsden. “The British Museum is a global destination for scholars, academics and visitors alike, and the bookshop has to cater for a prolific array of titles and categories.”

The company created a “stylish and sophisticated” design that includes tabletops wrapped in black leather to echo the original writing desks in the Reading Room where Karl Marx, George Bernard Shaw, Thomas Hardy, George Eliot and Rudyard Kipling all studied. “We have strived to create a compelling retail environment which compliments the majesty of the Reading Room, as well as enhancing the architecture of Lord Foster in the Great Court itself.”

If one takes the Rosetta Stone as one of the world’s earliest “books” – even earliest “digital” books because it’s nothing if not a tablet (and then some!) – it was amusing to see how the museum merchandises this brand, with everything from Rosetta Stone umbrellas to Rosetta Stone cuff-links. However, surely those mobile cases bearing some of the famous script should be dubbed “The Rosetta Phone.”

The wheel of books is already one of the most photographed shelves in the capital and, needless to say, certainly one of the most upmarket. In keeping with the setting, the titles sweeping away in front of you are all Etruscan marbles, Roman archaeology and pre-history.

Has anyone tried to buy any of them? “No, not yet,” said a bookseller. “But it’s only a question of time.” In fact, they would have to take one from stock off the shelves – a metal ring holds them in place, piercing all the copies on the wheel.

And what of use in the home? Surely it would be cool to have this in the middle of the living room, as a novelty item. When you at last finished War and Peace you could fling the book to one side, stand up an announced. “I’m done! I’m diving through the wheel!”

About the Author

Roger Tagholm


Roger Tagholm is based in London and has been writing about the book industry for more than 20 years. He is the former Deputy Editor of Publishing News and the author of Walking Literary London (New Holland) and Poems NOT on the Underground (Windrush Press).