Collector's Corner: Miniature Books
By Michele Alice
All literature may someday be published in cyberspace, but I prefer the psychological immediacy felt when holding a real book. And while there are many collectors of first editions, famous authors, etc., one particularly fascinating category is the miniature book.
Miniature books have been made for thousands of years. Extant examples range from 2000 BC Babylonian cuneiform tablets, 8th century BC Japanese block print scrolls, and 17th century AD "Thumb" Bibles (a simplified Bible intended for a child) to contemporary creations of remarkable skill.
Once mainly appreciated for their portability when journeys were long and arduous and for the ease with which they could be concealed when necessary, miniature books have come to be valued for their craftsmanship and artistry alone.
Miniature books are usually no larger than 3 inches (76.2 mm) in length or width, or up to 4 inches (101.6 mm) primarily in countries outside the U.S. It should be noted, however, that many books slightly larger than the suggested guidelines are nonetheless classified as miniatures due to their artistic or historical importance.
According to the Guinness World Records website, the record for the smallest printed book is held by Anatoliy Konenko of Russia for a 1996 edition of "Chameleon" by Chekhov. Measuring just 0.035 x 0.035 inches (0.9 x 0.9 mm), each of its 30 pages must be read under a microscope (http://digbig.com/4cybs).
Just as collectors of regular books find it advantageous to specialize, so do collectors of miniatures. Some collect "libraries" - books with uniform bindings often displayed in specially made miniature bookcases. Some seek out limited, hand-made creations by small presses or gifted contemporary artisans. And some just have fun searching for those little "books" that were sold in gumball machines or included as prizes in boxes of Cracker Jacks.
As is the case with their full-size brethren, values depend upon rarity and condition. New miniatures by commercial publishers are produced in great number and are generally priced less than larger books, while small-press editions are often extremely limited, with perhaps no more than 50 or 100 copies produced at prices up to several hundred dollars a copy. Antiquarian and second-hand volumes can fetch prices up to several thousand dollars each when rare and in excellent condition - or little or nothing if they are very common or badly damaged.
As in any field of collecting, knowledge prevents the two major mistakes of paying too much, and overlooking a great find. The following resources, therefore, are highly recommended:
"Antique United States miniature books, 1690-1900 ;: Principally from the collection of the American Antiquarian Society and the Lilly Library, Indiana University," by Robert C. Bradbury
"Miniature Books," by Louis W. Bondy
"More Making Books by Hand: Exploring Miniature Books, Alternative Structures, and Found Objects," by Peter Thomas, Donna Thomas
Just in case you'd like to make your own.
"Three Centuries of Thumb Bibles: A Checklist (Garland Garland Reference Library of the Humanities, No 127)," by Ruth E. Adomeit
The "bible" of Thumb Bibles, but very expensive!
"Twentieth Century United States Miniature Books: With Bibliographic Descriptions of Each Book Arranged by Publisher," by Robert C. Bradbury
"4000 Years of Miniature Books"
The Lilly Library (Indiana University) online exhibition of a portion of its 16,000 miniatures. Very informative site!
A bi-monthly journal devoted to miniature books.
The Miniature Book Society
International organization chartered in 1983. Articles, links, catalogs of exhibitions, more.
University of Iowa Libraries virtual exhibition: detailed descriptions; list of resources.
About the author:
Michele Alice is EcommerceBytes Update Contributing Editor. Michele is a freelance writer in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. She collects books, science fiction memorabilia and more! Email her at makalice @ adelphia.net eBay ID: Malice9
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