In Reply to: Left on the shelf posted by Victoria S Dennis on March 17, 2009 at 19:08:
: : I work in a museum and am trying to find the origin of the phrase "left on the shelf". Any clues?
: It's a natural metaphor from everyday life. Just as, when goods are selling rapidly we can say they are "flying off the shelves", when something or someone isn't in demand, and not likely to be, we say that they are "on the shelf". (It's not only spinsters that can be on the shelf: a plan or policy can also be put on the shelf, and so can an official or a general.) (VSD)
I don't have a date. Put on the shelf -- To put aside as of no further use. Used to describe people, projects, objects including "A single woman beyond the average age of marriage is said to be on the shelf." "Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable" revised by John Ayto (HarperCollinsPublishers, New York, 2005, Seventeenth Edition). Page 1260. Another reference said it's prison slang for being in solitary confinement -- mirroring society's use of the phrase for "out of circulation."