Before exploring the topic of aluminum shelves, let us consider first the human condition. It has often been noted that the basic minimum subsistence requirements for biological survival consist of water, food, and shelter. Along the same lines, human civilization requires, at a minimum, these three things: a source of energy, labor-saving machinery, and an instinct for organization. At the dawn of history, the first two needs were met by the invention, respectively, of fire and the wheel. It could be argued that the third need was met by the invention of—shelving.

Shelves: From Stone Age to Bronze Age—and Beyond

Nowadays, whenever anyone utters the word “shelf,” typically the first image that springs to mind is a bookshelf.

The “Long Room” of the Trinity College Library in the 18th century, watercolor by James Malton (Source)

Considering the printed book wasn’t invented until the 15th century, one wonders what our forebears did with all their stuff? The quick answer is: they had shelves to store those things too! They just weren’t aluminum shelves. Indeed, one can imagine some of our more orderly Stone Age ancestors carefully laying out their tool-carving implements and projects in various stages of completion on a naturally occurring rock shelf within their cave domicile.

Stone axes in various stages of manufacture, from the Neolithic settlement of Vinelz on Lake Biel, Switzerland, c. 2700 BC. (Source)

Long past the Stone Age, archaeology has revealed numerous variations on the humble shelf for storing objects besides books. Perhaps the oldest known library in the world is the Royal Library of Ashurbanipal, named after the last great king of the Assyrian Empire. It consists of more than 30,000 clay tablets, writing tablets, and fragments containing texts of all kinds and in various languages from the 7th century BC, including the Epic of Gilgamesh. Some of these artifacts were found inserted inside shelf-like clay wall nooks in various rooms throughout the ruins of the palace. Today they reside on more modern shelves and cases in the British Museum.

“The first library to contain all knowledge”: Cuneiform tablets and other artifacts from the Library of Ashurbanipal, in the British Museum (Source)

Due to their weight, all those clay tablets were hard to store or share. With the invention of paper (papyrus) by the Egyptians, the task of keeping records and composing literature became magnitudes easier. For that reason, the Great Library of Alexandria became one of the largest and most significant collections of the written word in the ancient world. This was not a library of books, as we know them, but a collection of papyrus scrolls, presumably stored on special shelves built for that purpose:

19th-century artistic rendering of the Library of Alexandria by the German artist O. Von Corven, based partially on the archaeological evidence available at that time (Source)

In the writings of the great Roman orator Cicero, who possessed an impressive personal library of scrolls, he refers to the shelves where he keeps his “books” with the words nidus, forulus, and loculamentum—all of which can be translated as “pigeon-holes.” We can imagine that his library probably looked very similar to this room of English parliamentary records:

Rolls containing Acts of Parliament in the Archives at Victoria Tower, Palace of Westminster (Source)

But we don’t need to imagine. As fate (not luck) would have it, the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. that buried the Roman city of Pompeii under tons of ash did the same to the nearby city of Herculaneum. And there preserved was the famed Villa of the Papyri—a luxurious private residence containing a large library of papyrus scrolls, many still in their pigeon-holes, carbonized yet otherwise intact.

Shelves Today

The papyrus scroll remained the standard in Europe (and specifically Rome) for many years, until the Middle Ages, when scrolls were superseded by the hand-crafted vellum or parchment codex, which was very close to our modern concept of the book. Back then, practically the only literate people were the very wealthy and those involved in the Church. Medieval scribes (typically monks) would store their sacred religious writings and writing materials in little cupboards called aumbries built into the backs of Christian churches and monasteries. These very much resembled built-in bookshelves.

Mid-13th century aumbry at St. Matthew’s Church, Langford, Oxfordshire, England (Source)

But shelves just aren’t just about storing books and papyrus scrolls. They have been used to store and organize everything from museum collections to industrial supplies to retail products, and much more.

Museum collections

Industrial supplies

Retail products

The same can be said of Framing Tech’s aluminum shelves. Their time has come. They can store anything. The difference is that our shelving units are movable, customizable, easily adjustable, easy to assemble and disassemble, easy to clean, corrosion-resistant—and they will last a lifetime!

Due to the inherent benefits of our aluminum extrusions, custom shelving is simple to design and to expand upon. Whether you need surfaces to stock items in a warehouse, a part drying rack, a display case, or yes, even a book shelf, we can help design a shelving unit specific to your needs. The T-slots assist in various mounting positions as well as providing a channel to hide unsightly cables for lighting.

Shelf material can range from glass, to shatterproof Polycarb, to extra-strength Valuebond, to rigid yet lightweight Sintra board, to 12-gauge steel wire mesh, to stainless steel. Powder coat options, access doors, LED lighting, and other accessories are dependent on your personal needs and taste. This quality aluminum shelving can be free-standing or wall/floor-mounted. Custom shelving units can also be designed for mobile use in trailers, vans, and RVs.