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Artists' Books, Fine and Private Press Books, and Miniature Books at RBSC

Miniature Books at RBSC

Rare Books and Special Collections (RBSC) has over 200 miniature books in its collection. Roughly half of the miniature books in RBSC’s collection are books for children, though the collection also includes Bibles, works of history and literature, dictionaries, bibliography, art, and natural history. Although the scope of the books is worldwide, they are primarily written in English, with some in German, French, Spanish, Latin, Portuguese, Russian, Slovenian, and Croatian. They span from 1667 to 2011 and many of the modern books in the collection are artists' or fine press books.

About Miniature Books

Miniature books are designed to be small in size, yet still readable without magnification (whereas those that are tiny enough to need magnification are often referred to as ‘micro-miniatures'). According to the Miniature Book Society (MBS), miniature books should be no larger than three inches in height (7.5 cm), width, or thickness, although that definition is sometimes extended to four inches (as is the case at RBSC).

Initially, miniature books were produced for both practicality and aesthetic pleasure. It was convenient to have large publications transcribed into miniature format for ease of storage—Victorian women could discreetly reference etiquette books (MBS); religious practitioners could have devotional literature on hand at all times; merchants could quickly retrieve information on prices and conversions; and those with revolutionary and/or unfavorable ideas could easily hide their texts (British Library blog). In addition to their practicality, they tend to draw attention due to a sense of beauty and intrigue in small objects as well as the technical challenge of creation.

Although there is some debate about the origins of miniature books, some consider the earliest iterations to be Sumerian clay tablets with cuneiform text that are dated as far back as 2500 BC (MBS). Centuries later, in 770 AD, Empress Shōtoku of Japan ordered that Buddhist prayers be printed on miniature scrolls of exceptionally fine paper and delivered around the empire. According to the Oxford Companion to the Book, however, the earliest miniatures were manuscripts written on papyrus and parchment in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD and subsequently worn on clothing to ward off spirits. Others believe miniature books originated in the Middle Ages, when tiny codices, such as books of hours, contained personal devotional texts written on the finest parchment (Oxford Companion to the Book).

With the advent of print in the 15th century, printed miniature books began appearing and, after the Reformation in the 16th century, bibles became the most popular of the miniature texts. This was evidenced in the success of Thumb Bibles (named for the character Tom Thumb of English folklore) which contained abridged versions of the Bible and were produced across Europe and North America (Oxford Companion to the Book). Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, miniatures of Greek and Latin classics rose in popularity among students who wished to have access to school texts outside the classroom. In the 19th century, miniature versions of novelty books became a publishing phenomenon because they were highly sought after and collectible, especially during the holidays. The minis began to be marketed primarily to children and were often sold as box sets containing entire small libraries.

The idea of a small library was further popularized in 1922, when Queen Mary was gifted with the two hundred miniature books for display in the library of her doll house (MBS homepage). The 1900s saw further iterations of the miniature book, particularly in the political sphere. The most widely produced example is Mao Zedong’s ‘Little Red Book’ that was printed by the millions in the 1960s, but there were earlier examples of propaganda published by the Nazi Party in exchange for donations in the 1930s (Oxford Companion to the Book). 

Today, miniature books are still sought-after collectors' items. They also continue to be created and published by private presses that specialize in fine press printing and bookbinding.


Sources consulted:

Finding Materials: Subject Headings

Relevant Subject Headings:

Highlights from Our Collection

Title & Author

Year

Call #

Obras; sacadas a luz de nueuo, y emendadas en esta ultima impression by Luis de Góngora y Argote

1667

PQ6394 .A1 1667

The Bible in Miniuture [sic], or, A concise history of the Old and New Testaments; printed for E. Newbery

1780

BS391.A2 B5

Goody Two-Shoes: The History of Little Goody Two Shoes; Otherwise Called Mrs. Margery Two Shoes, With the Means by Which She Acquired Her Learning and Wisdom, and in Consequence Thereof Her Estate; variously attributed to Oliver Goldsmith, Giles Jones, Griffith Jones, and John Newbery

1780

PZ6 1780 G66

Grammar Made Familiar and Easy by John Newbery

1787

PZ6 1787 C572 V. 1

Arithmetic Made Familiar and Easy to Young Gentlemen and Ladies by John Newbery

1788

PZ6 1787 C572 V. 2

Rhetoric Made Familiar and Easy: And Illustrated with Orations from Demosthenes, Cicero, Sallust, Homer, Shakespear, Milton, etc. by John Newbery

1788

PZ6 1787 C572 V. 3

Poetry Made Familiar and Easy to Young Gentlemen and Ladies: And Embellished with a Great Variety of the Most Shining Epigrams, Epitaphs, Songs, Odes, Pastorals, etc. from the Best Authors by John Newbery

1789

PZ6 1787 C572 V. 4

Logic Made Familiar and Easy: To Which is Added a Compendious System of Metaphysics or Ontology by John Newbery

1789

PZ6 1787 C572 V. 5

A Series of Prints of Roman History Designed as Ornaments for Those Apartments in Which Children Receive the First Rudiments of Their Education; printed and sold by J. Marshall

1789

PZ6 1789 S4

A Description of a Set of Prints of Roman History by Sarah Trimmer; printed and sold by J. Marshall

1789

PZ6 1789 .S4 T7

Chronology Made Familiar and Easy to Young Gentlemen and Ladies: To Which is Added a Table of the Most Memorable Events from the Beginning of the World by John Newbery

1791

PZ6 1787 C572 V. 7

Geography Made Familiar and Easy by John Newbery)

1793

PZ6 1787 C572 V. 6

Book of Common Prayer, and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church, Together with the Proper Lessons for Sundays and Other Holy-Days by the Church of England

18__?

BX5145 .A52 1800Z:1

The History of England, from the Conquest to the Death of George II; printed by T. Gillet

1800

PZ6 1800 H578

The History of Tom Thumb the Great by Dean & Munday publishers

18__?

PZ6 1800z T657

Toy Books by James Lumsden & Son

18__?

PZ6 1800z T69

Tracts by the Religious Tract Society

183_-186_?

PZ6 1800z T722

Works of the Late Celebrated Robert Burns, with a Sketch of His Life and Character by Robert Burns

1805

PR4301 .A1 1805

Gammer Gurton's Garland of Nursery Songs; and, Toby Tickle's Collection of Riddles; compiled by Peter Puzzlecat, esq. (possibly compiled by Joseph Ritson)

1810

PZ6 1810 .G344

Bible. Selections. English. The Holy Bible Abridged, or, The History of the Old and New Testament for the Use of Children; published by Isaiah Thomas

1811

PZ6 1811 B4

The Medley; printed by Samuel Wood

1813

PZ6 1813 M434

The Children in the Wood Restored, by Honestas, the Hermit of the Forest; or, Perfidy Detected, Being the Sequel to the History of the Children in the Wood by Richard Johnson

c. 1814

PZ6 1814 J656

The New England Primer, Improved; Or, An Easy and Pleasant Guide to the Art of Reading. To Which is Added, the Assembly's Catechism; printed by James Loring

1816

PZ6 1816 .N3

The Book of Letters; published by S.S. Wood

1818

PZ6 1818 B664

Scripture History; published by S.S. Wood

1818

PZ6 1818 S475

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Digital Miniature Book Collections