Miniature Book Society

Learn about miniature books, the unique craftsmanship and the patience that goes into the creation of them.

Did you know that there existed a unique art form known as miniature books? This fascinating preoccupation has seen millions of books printed on every conceivable subject in as many as twenty languages. So, how do you define a miniature book? To be classified as miniature, a book must not exceed three inches in either height or width. This includes the binding. So, why were miniature books first produced?

It would appear a prime motivation in the early publication of these tiny volumes was the ease of carriage and use they offered. Miniature books are, perhaps surprisingly, easy to read. Today, though, it is the skill of the manufacture process that is most prized as well as the beauty of the finished product.

Early printers had to overcome many technical problems to design type that would be legible, with or without the use of a magnifying glass. The beauty of many of the resulting volumes attests to the success of their efforts. After a book is printed, it is bound. The bindings of many miniature books are a work of art in themselves. The skills of the craftsman can be seen in the production of tiny covers of tooled leather, gold or silver filigree, tortoise shell or decorated enamel. Other covers are of silk or velvet or are even embroidered or even decorated with pearls or sequins. Some books even have slip cases to protect them.

The engravers who decorate the covers often produce amazingly detailed pieces of art, in miniature. As an example of this, the 368 page Bryce's Thumb English Dictionary, printed in the 1890's, has an amazingly detailed portrait of Samuel Johnson, the English Lexicographer, all of which is less than an inch square. Another fine example is the illustration facing the title page of Shakespeare's King Richard 111, which was dedicated in 1909 to the English actress Ellen Terry.

Napoleon Bonaparte was a fan of miniature books. It is believed that he carried a 49 volume series called the Bibliotheque Portative du Voyageur during his military campaigns. These books are contained in a leather covered box. When locked it gives the appearance of a large folio book.

A particularly impressive form of miniature book is the Thumb Bible. Thumb Bibles are not always complete Bibles. Some contain just the New Testament while others contain only the Old Testament. Others are condensed versions of the Bible Books, giving the complete Bible story in about 7,000 words. These versions are designed to be read by children. The name Thumb Bible apparently dates back to a visit by the famous American midget Charles Stratton - better known as Tom Thumb - to Britain in 1844. It was immediately after this that miniature Bibles came to be known as Thumb Bibles. Many Miniature Bibles have unusual textual features. The Illustrated Bible was produced during the hey day of Britain's railways and draws upon many rail analogies and illustrations. For example, a section of verse in the bible is headed Railway to Heaven. A two page poem at the beginning of the Bible is entitled To Point You To Another Line, that other rail line being Jesus Christ.

So, what is the smallest book ever produced? For over 200 years that title was held by a publication produced in 1674 entitled Bloem-Hofje. The book was described as "˜the size of a finger nail.' In 1878 a version of Dante's La Divina Comedia was produced, and it was even smaller. It was printed in two point type. In 1978 Three Blind Mice produced by the Glennifer Press in Paisley, Scotland became the smallest book ever made. This was surpassed in 1985 by the same printers when they released 85 copies of another nursery rhyme, Old King Cole. The volume measured an incredible one twenty fifth of a square inch. The pages can only be turned with the aid of a needle!

Books like these speak volumes about the craftsmanship and patience of their makers. However, they go way beyond the original intent of the makers of miniature books, who wanted volumes that were practical and easy to use. The art form has now taken over. And the books can be seen in museums around the world, as works of art in their own right.

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