Miniature Books

“People love small things. When you hold a miniature book in your hand, it is like holding a jewel…They are indeed like jewelry, with words and images instead of gemstones and wonderful structures instead of precious metals. Cradling a miniature book in your hands is a delight compared to lugging a ten-pound textbook around.” 

-Peter Thomas, miniature bookmaker

This semester, we chose to add to the small number of miniature books at Goucher, which are mainly in Special Collections and not in circulation at the library. Additionally, our Art and Artifacts Collection contains several examples of early technologies of miniature books. Goucher has a variety of these tiny books, spanning human history.

Video from Iowa PBS on miniature books

Miniature books have been around since approximately 3000 BCE in Ancient Mesopotamia with cuneiform tablets. Cuneiform tablets are the oldest writing forms, made from wet clay that was inscribed with a wedge-shaped reed stylus. The inscriptions used pictographs to describe the content of the cuneiform tablet. As the technologies of the book progressed, miniature books evolved as well.

The modern book is based on the technology of codices. Codices started the tradition of bound books with the Romans in the first century C.E. Codices were often small in size, making them convenient for travel, and have lasted the test of time to the present day. Now miniature books have to meet standardizations including size which varies from three to four inches in different countries.

The tradition of miniature books became repopularized in the 1920s with Queen Mary’s dollhouse. She wanted the tiny library to be filled with readable miniature books, and asked authors to send her miniature versions of their works. Her library includes books by Rudyard Kipling, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, A.A Milne, as well as 167 other authors throughout her nearly 600 book collection.

 Obsession with miniatures has never gone away. To this day, people continue to collect small objects and books. In fact, while we were researching miniature books, one of us stumbled upon an Instagram ad to make a miniature book of their posted pictures. Extant miniature books are continuing to be discovered. In November 2021, a woman in the United Kingdom found a 1.5-centimeter gold Bible from King Richard III in the 15th century on the beach.

Our dive into the miniature book world happened by accident. While browsing the Kelmscott catalogue for our class book acquisition project, one of us found The Library of Lost Books and went on a hunt for more miniatures in the collection. Ultimately, we chose these four books out of our personal admiration for the design and aesthetics as well as how they could fit in the Goucher Collection. Three of the four miniature books are artists books from small presses which contribute to the growing Artist Books collection in Goucher’s Special Collections. The content within each book also ties into different aspects of the Goucher curriculum, whether it is Visual & Material Culture, Literary Studies, or Dance. In this way, the books are valuable tools for students to study to better understand their disciplines.

While Goucher does already have its own miniature books, the books were purchased for their content and unique form. We hope that our acquisitions can help form a larger miniature book collection to highlight this lovely craft.