Miniature books were printed on seemingly every subject possible, from classic literature, to children’s books, reference works, and sacred material. Click any image for a larger view.
Children’s books, first published as early as 1601, were made primarily for religious and scholarly education, e.g. primers, nursery rhymes, hymn books, and histories. Books published strictly for children’s enjoyment would not emerge until the mid-18th century. Miniature book publishing for children was fairly popular until the 20th century, when children’s books became more widely accepted and larger, with more extensive illustrations.
Justinian I, Emperor. Imperatoris Ivstiniani
Institvtionvm Libri IV.
Venetiis : Apud Guerilios, 1667
Special Collections is fortunate to hold some miniature books printed before 1800. Miniature books production increased dramatically in the 1600s, twice the number that had been produced in the previous century. Systems of shorthand were used to squeeze in as much text as possible into these small volumes of the time. The first American miniature book also appeared in 1690. The innovations made in the production of miniature books were the reason for its proliferation during this century; in fact as much technology as was improved for larger sized books, paralleled the advancement of miniature book production. Miniature book production in the 1600s totaled around 400.
The 18th century did not show such a dramatic increase in miniature book production, but it certainly maintained the creation that had been so popular in the previous century. Growing popularity in children’s books and almanacs accompanied the miniature religious books and classic literature subjects that continued production. Unfortunately, book piracy also became more evident in this time period, with exports of miniature books to America. American printers would copy and print unauthorized editions, often with grossly incompetent results (i.e., an illustration for one item would be entirely incorrect, or text would be improperly reproduced).
Art books are a natural outlet for miniature texts. Books like these cannot be broadly defined: miniature paintings, song and dance materials, paper artwork, and alternative texts all fall under the artistic book heading. Eclectic publications like Paper Cranes garner an unique quality due to its content and its size. The volume measures 2.36 in. x 3.14 in., with the inset crane 1.6 in. x 1.5 in. Other unexpected items are accordion-style and pop-out books.
Miniature books provide a challenge for bookbinders; an opportunity to experiment and come up with unusual binding or materials for covers. Gold, velvet, linen, embroidery, tortoiseshell, mother-of-pearl, silk, wooden boards are all examples of the beautiful coverings and casings that miniature books can be made with.
Miniature music books are not very common (with actual bars of music, that is). Printing music (bars, notes, etc) is particularly difficult in small type, and these days, music is reproduced in miniature mainly via lithography and reduced photography. Song books appear mostly in oblong format, as above, and the miniature size was practical for large gatherings, particularly within religious sects that were trying to be discreet.
Another popular entertainment miniature was Carnets de Bal, in which ladies could write down the names of their prospective dance partners, were popular for their convenient size; they needn't be laid down during the course of a dance. They included engraved pictures and blanks for names.Other popular entertainment subjects found in miniature books are tobacco, flowers, costume, and erotica.
Holy Bible: contains a portion of
the New Testament of
Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Chicago: Gernat's, [19--].
Carpenter, Cecil C. The Child’s Bible
and Prayer Book. Peoria, Ill.:
The Baby Bible & Prayer Book Co, 1932.
Wesley, John. A collection of
hymns for the use of the
people called Methodists.
London: J. Mason, 1839
Interestingly, sacred materials were very popular miniature works. Bibles, hymn books, devotionals, and children's prayer books were all designed in miniature as well as full-size. All familiar with the Bible know there are places for family births, marriages, and deaths; miniature versions are no exception to the rule. Thumb bibles are among some of the smallest books printed, being no larger than a man's thumb.
Where did the term "Thumb Bible" come from? It is said that one of the first miniature Bibles was printed in France, called Bible de petit Poucet. Tom Thumb was known in France as Petit Poucet, hence the translation of "Tom Thumb's Bible", or "Thumb Bible" as we call it today, which is a miniature version of the Bible, using no more than 7000 words, and containing cuts for illustrations.
Wilde, Oscar. The nightingale
and the rose. Hyattsville, Md.:
Rebecca Press in cooperation
with Cheloniidae Press, 1985.
Classic literature reproduced in miniature began in the early days of miniature book publishing, in the 16th century. Classics in miniature were found to be much more convenient to handle, since most had previously only been available in large quartos and folios-these small volumes were called octavos. Italic print was introduced during the production of these small tomes, which was more compact than the Gothic or Roman types used up to this time.
Classics were produced, among other reasons, to allow the owner to have a large library of essential works without taking up en entire room of shelves. Cases for these volumes can be portable, and were known as "traveling libraries."
Home Life Insurance Co.
The Little Red Book. “The Year 1917”.
New York: Home Life Insurance Co., 1917
Popular reference works published in miniature include encyclopedias, financial tables, traveling routes, law dictionaries, collection catalogues, handbooks, almanacs, gazetteers, railway guides, maps, guide books, and even atlases. However, one of the most popular reference works is a popular traditional reference work: the dictionary. Miniature dictionaries of the English language have appeared since the 18th century—small enough to fit in a traveler’s vest pocket or lady’s purse. These volumes were used for more than decorative purposes.
At the start of the 20th century, the popular Lilliput dictionaries began publication, of which Special Collections owns several. They sold mainly to tourists and had a very wide range of language availability/combinations. Their size and appearance has not changed (about 2" x 1.5") even in their most recent publications.