From the time of the first bound books, right up until the 17th century, books were shelved with their spines facing inwards and the pages facing out. There was a practical reason for this seemingly perverse practice. Books were typically bound in leather and the technology for decorating a book was primitive. Bookmakers applied embellishments to the front and back cover but avoided the spine because it had to bend and flex and created problems when you affixed adornments.
So how do you know which book is which on your bookshelf when you can’t see the spine? Well, you decorate the fore-edge (the paper) of the book—much like you did with your school books. And if you’re a renaissance book collector you engage an artist to decorate your outward facing pages. This is what Odorico Pilone did when he employed Cesare Vecellio to decorate 172 of his books. Here is an example of this beautiful work.
So how does all this relate to Kathy Sierra’s excellent post on how to use your Moleskine notebook to keep your life in order? I’ve been a Moleskine users for a few years now and have a small collection of completed notebooks. I found it difficult to label the spine on a Moleskine so I simply reverted to the pre-seventeenth century practice of shelving the notebooks with the fore-edge facing out and decorating my fore-edges with the dates I started and finished each notebook adding a simple label for reference. Here they are on the left.
Petroski, H. (2000). The book on the book shelf. New York, Vintage Books.