A Short History of Miniature Books

M by Claire Bolton

Bolton, Claire. M. Alembic Press, 2002.
Height 2 3/4"
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What are miniature books?

Miniature books are books that are no larger than 3” in any measurement, although the Library of Congress classifies miniature books as books less than 4” in any measurement. There are 4 different categories of miniature books, which include the “macro-mini”, or a book between 3” and 4” tall; the “miniature”, a book between 2” and 3” tall; the “micro-mini”, a book between 1” and 2” tall; and the “ultra-micro-mini”, or a book smaller than 1” in all measurements. Very few Americans collect “ultra-micro-minis”, building their collection out of the “micro-mini” and “miniature” books available. American publishers also devote little time to the creation of “ultra-micro-mini” texts.

Kennedy, John F.
Inaugural Address of John F. Kennedy.
Los Angeles: Bela Blau, 1965.
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Are miniature books really that small?

Miniature books really are smaller than three inches. The three inch measurement must be met in every direction. For die hard collectors, the three inch measurement must be met in every direction, or it does not qualify as a miniature book. As an illustration, on the left is a bound copy of John F. Kennedy's inaugural speech text, with a penny provided for scale.

Babylonian Clay Tablet

A Babylonian Clay Tablet
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When and where did miniature books originate?

The Babylonian clay tablets are considered to be the first miniature “books”. Special Collections holds a few such tablets, and an online exhibit is available here. As for the first traditional “book”, Peter Schoffer, Johann Guttenberg’s assistant and future successor, published the first miniature book in 1468. This book was titled Diurnale Mogantinum, and fragments of this text can be seen at the Biblioteque Nationale in Paris.

How are miniature books made?

Night Monster by Alisa Golden

Golden, Alisa. Night Monster.
Berkeley, Calif.: Never Mind the Press, 2004.
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Miniature books are designed in conventional style, but they are also made accordion-style, as foldouts, scrolls, or pop-up books. As for the printing, text was created by hand calligraphy, letterpress, photoengraving, lithography, or more contemporarily, computers and copiers. The last two techniques were more often used to reproduce and reduce larger volumes that were previously printed. The small size of the book allowed for beautiful materials to be used in binding, such as silver filigree, gold, mother-of-pearl, jewels, crystal, onyx, and malachite. Due to the labor necessary to create these books, printings are generally limited to less than 150. In many cases, items are counted in dozens, or are one-of-a-kind.

Book of Trades

The Book of Trades. Philadelphia :
H. C. Peck & Theo, [1847?]
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Are miniature books like real books?

Miniature books are like any book inside, but printed on a smaller scale. The Book of Trades contains all the same text and illustrations a traditional book would contain. This is accomplished by using text small enough to fit the size and form of the pages, and by sizing down the illustrations as well. The quality of the printed image is a testament to the skill of the illustrator.