People are amazed at how small cell phones, personal computers and other electronic devices are becoming. But, good old-fashioned books have a jump start on that trend. It seems impractical, but there are such things as miniature books; tomes that measure no more than three square inches in size, with print too small to be read without a magnifying glass or a telescope. And, they’re not the tools of “Cold War” spy games. They’ve been around for centuries.
“They were created for reasons of practicality, curiosity and aesthetics,” says Julian Edison, whose collection of 15,000 little books includes two-inch clay tablets onto which ancient Babylonians inscribed cuneiform lettering around 2200 B.C.
Some twenty years after Johann Gutenberg developed his printing press, miniature books were being produced. Most were religious texts. Book-makers utilized magnifying glasses and a myriad of small tools to create books that were mirror images of their life-size counterparts, complete with leather binding and gold threading.
The Miniature Book Society, a non-profit established in Delaware, Ohio in 1983, is dedicated to the art of the littlest publications. This past spring MBS even hosted a traveling exhibition that showcased both historic and contemporary small-scale literary works.
Don’t be fooled though. Small books don’t necessarily mean small prices. London-based book dealer Sam Fogg recently sold a 16th century miniature prayer book for GBP 3 million. For GBP 15,000, Edison himself just acquired a miniature diary kept by a 13-year-old girl who survived the Titanic. I’m sure some people will look at these Lilliputian books in the same way as they do my model cars – nice, but what purpose do they serve? Well, that’s something only true book lovers can understand.