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What's Up Magazine

Miniature Books

Jun 10, 2011 01:25PM ● By Anonymous

Artworks in the exhibit will be sold by silent auction to benefit the gallery’s education programs. General admission 7:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m is $55 and include cocktails, prizes, summer foods, book signings, and speaker presentations. Featured speakers include Lisa Simeone, host of National Public Radio’s “World of Opera”, Alan Cheuse, book commentator for NPR’s “All Things Considered,” and Kerry McAleer-Keeler, book artist and director of the Corcoran College of Art +Design  master’s program on books and art. A VIP ticket ($125) qualifies you for reserved seats at the lecture plus the opportunity to meet the speakers in advance of the General Reception. To purchase tickets CLICK HERE.

Available for sale, at below retail market prices, will be a selection of antique and collectible books. While no miniature books are in the sale (the last time I checked) they are one type of interesting book to collect. Logically speaking small books would seem to be designed for small hands. However, books in miniature were made for other reasons as well: ease of transport; conservation of precious paper, ink, and binding material; and because there is a human fascination with creating precious objects in a small size.

Some of the earliest miniature books are not books in the traditional Western European sense but are small Babylonian cuneiform tablets that date back to 2300 B, C, Made of clay, the small tablets were incised with cuneiform writing, a script that utilized symbolic pictures. Cuneiform writing is considered by historians to be the world’s first written language. As other written languages developed they all were transcribed in one form or another to tablets, scrolls, and ultimately to pages bound together underneath a cover. Sometimes those written books were decidedly small in size.

So what is the definition of a miniature book? For today’s collectors, it is a book smaller than three inches in height or length. The Library of Congress allows books classified as miniature to be slightly larger, smaller than four inches in any direction. But the books can become so much smaller. What is termed an “ultra-micro-mini” is a book smaller than one inch in each direction.  A book that small would be awfully difficult to read. But to make it easier David Bryce & Sons, a publisher located in Glasgow who produced fine miniature books in the late 19 th and early 20 th century, created a tiny dictionary housed in a locket with a magnifying glass. They used photographic reduction to produce The Book of Common Prayer and a copy of the Koran printed in Arabic measuring one inch by one and a half inches in size.

According to historians, Johann Guttenberg’s assistant and successor, Peter Schoffer, created the first traditional miniature book in 1478. Remembering that the typefaces were all physically moved by hand to create the text to print a page, the first miniature version used the same text but broke it down to be printed on smaller pages.  Later publishers created smaller print types specifically for the purpose of printing smaller size books.

Religious texts for spiritual guidance and reference were very popular in miniature form, as they could easily be carried in a pocket or purse. Tiny bibles with condensed content, written for children are known among collectors as Thumb Bibles . They were printed as early as 1600 and popularly produced until the end of the 19 th century. Often illustrated, they frequently included bible stories.

17 th , 18 th , and 19 th century books were precious and valuable possessions that were bound in leather. Smaller books could have even finer binding ornamentations that included silver, gold, tortoise shell and silk. Calendars and almanacs were popular reference books that contained a range of useful information that might include a table of the reigning monarchs, church holidays, and the alignment of the stars and they were often published in miniature form.  While the European versions of calendar and almanac books were often elaborate in nature, the American counterparts were frequently used as advertising promotions for local businesses such as drugstores, who gave them as gifts to customers.

There are many delightful antique and limited edition children’s books published in small sizes. They range from those meant for doll houses and miniature displays to entire sets of books devoted to nursery rhymes, the alphabet, and classic favorites such as Aesop’s Tales .

As with all antique books, miniature books are judged by rarity and condition. A constant enemy is foxing that creates small reddish brown  spots on the pages usually caused by humidity. Antique books should be handled with white cotton gloves to avoid a transfer of oils, dirt, and other pollutants from the hands that may cause damage.  For information on appraising your miniature book, there are specific reference texts available through your local library that should be able to assist in approximating a value.