Miniature Books in Vogue | Newberry

Miniature Books in Vogue

This ladies pocket calendar, published in Pressburg (modern Bratislava) in 1799, is an example of the miniature books that can be found in the Newberry’s collection. 

Dear Walter:

What are your thoughts on tiny, miniature books?

—Somerset Ericsson, Dixville Notch, NH

Miniature books, no doubt, have their Origin in a most rational Impulse: the desire for, and the concomitant Pursuit of, Convenience. Indeed, such a desire governs every element of our Lives; we demand the expeditious fulfillment of a range of Biological and Cultural satisfaction, from the animal urge for Sustenance to our routine ablutions ensuring a salubriousness of Body and a purity of Soul. Why should Reading differ?

I am well-apprised of the scarcity of resources which allow one the Luxury of large, handsomely bound Volumes—to say nothing of a private library in which to display them. A great multitude of us are, as they say, “ON THE MOVE.” Have you ever undertaken the perusal of a Folio while in transit by carriage? No? Well, it is an Exercise more physical than intellectual! To shift and rearrange the Tome in response to the interminable Jostling of wheels against cobblestone is to bear the Burden of Atlas.

Thus, as the printing industry matured, there emerged a demand for smaller volumes suitable for Travel. Publishers, rational Actors in a burgeoning Market, met demand with supply. An innovation was born from the exigencies of Daily Life: Ah, the balletic intertwining of the forces of the market!

Over time, however, a vogue developed for ever-more diminutive books. The production of miniature books fell prey to Man’s fascination with the superlative; it succumbed to his Search for the Sublime in the smallest perceivable dimensions of human apprehension. And so, with the nineteenth and early twentieth Centuries, miniatures proliferated as keepsakes, novelty objects the size of a thumbnail intended to convey something of the Ingenuity of the Printer rather than the content of the story. (You may have divined my preference for reserving the magnifying glass for the fine print of my stock certificates and Real Estate contracts.)

The Newberry’s collection contains quite a few examples of such miniature books. As I page them to the Special Collections Reading Room, feelings commensurate with the care I must take in handling their pages bubble up within me. Surely, these darling objects have their place in printing history and, increasingly, my Heart.