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[BKARTS] Miniature Book Society Featued in the Journal
The following article appeared in the Tuesday, March 7 edition of the Wall
Street Journal. Front-page, above the fold, no less. Congratulations to the
Miniature Book Society!
You can see the article for 7 days after publication at:
Be sure to look on at the slide show of 7 very nice photos featuring
If you can't get to the article here is the text of the complete article:
Keeping Track Of Miniature Books Is No Small Feat
Katrina, Thieves and Cats Have Claimed Tiny Texts; 'No, That's a Crumb'
By SUSAN WARREN
March 7, 2006; Page A1
By design, miniature books don't take up much space. The tiny tomes are easy
to carry, easy to pack and easy to hide. So it should come as no surprise
that they are also very easy to lose.
A traveling exhibit of 125 rare miniature books was among the millions of
objects lost to the chaos of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans last summer.
The collection, valued at about $25,000, included one-of-a-kind creations
with typeset pages hand-sewn into gilt-stamped, leather bindings. Most were
one-half inch to 2 inches tall. One prize edition: a copy of the Old King
Cole nursery rhyme, 1 millimeter square, or smaller than the size of an "n"
in this newspaper.
Until recently the fate of the collection, which had been on display at a
New Orleans library, wasn't known because no one could get into the library.
"It's been horrible," says Eileen Cummings, president of the Miniature Book
Society, which owns the collection.
Almost as long as man has been writing, people have been creating petite
versions of books. The smaller sizes, favored for portability, whimsy or
art, have become the quarry of collectors. Among the first miniatures were
clay tablets an inch tall, dating before 2000 B.C. Monks in medieval times
liked to hang miniature books from their belts, and 17th century Christians
handed out "thumb bibles" to children. Napoleon, an avid reader, carried a
miniature library while waging his campaigns.
A physician in 1832 addressed the taboo subject of birth control in a
miniature manual titled "The Fruits of Philosophy," because the small books
were easier to conceal. After the Soviet Union disbanded, a flood of
small-size books came out of Eastern Europe, where state propaganda
flourished in miniature texts.
Some modern bookmakers favor artistic miniatures, such as a book in the
traveling collection that is bound in elephant hide and nestled into a
circular case shaped like an elephant's foot. But most are simply shrunken
versions of traditional-size books, covering a wide variety of topics, from
dictionaries to pornography to the entire works of Shakespeare.
Figuring out how to display them can be a challenge -- accessories for
full-size books won't do, so special cradles and cases must be constructed.
The smallest books require a microscope to read and can be difficult to even
pick up. "There's just not much surface to work with," says Ed Hoyenski,
assistant curator of the rare-book collection at the University of North
GET OUT YOUR GLASSES
The books are also easy to misplace. Mr. Hoyenski once dropped the smallest
book in the library's own collection, a book on the Chinese Zodiac. At less
than 1 millimeter square, it looks like a speck of dirt with corners. Four
people, including curator Mary Durio, crawled around the floor for hours
looking for it. "We were picking up stuff and saying, "Is this it? No,
that's a crumb," she recalls.
Mr. Hoyenski found the book the next day, using a jeweler's magnifying loupe
to search his desk, square inch by square inch.
The books' size -- which once made them attractive for propaganda and
illicit text -- can also make them irresistible to thieves. Some of the
rarest antique miniatures can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars or
more. A 16th century prayer book, a 2-by-1-inch manuscript with miniature
paintings by illuminator Simon Bening, went for $1.1 million in 2001 at a
When the Lilly Library at Indiana University inherited 16,000 miniature
books from Ohio collector Ruth Adomeit in 1996, "we immediately went out and
bought some magnifying glasses," said librarian Becky Cape. The library is
still cataloging the collection. The books are given call numbers and
shelved on tiny bookcases. But unlike regular-size books, the minis are kept
locked up. "You could carry them out in your pants cuff," Ms. Cape says.
Robert Bradbury, a miniature-book collector and dealer in Worcester, Mass.,
says he has books stolen every time he exhibits at a book fair, even though
he tries to keep an eagle eye on browsers. But he accepts responsibility for
some volumes vanishing. A few years ago, he bought 2,000 miniature books at
a Christie's auction in London, then dumped them on the bed in his hotel
room to impress his wife. When he packed them back up, he left four behind,
which he didn't discover until he got home. "Whoever vacuumed the floor got
'em," he says.
Ms. Cummings, the Miniature Book Society president, says a collector friend
once reported losing a favorite miniature when his angry girlfriend flushed
it down the toilet. Pets can also be a threat. She herself once lost a
5-millimeter-tall book, worth about $250, in her carpet. The culprit, she
thinks, was her cat, which likes to eat paper. "I checked his stools for
several days," she says.
In the last century, even tinier books -- called micro-minis -- have grown
more popular, both to stock the shelves of dollhouses, and as novelties.
Julian Edison, a collector in St. Louis, recently published a list in
Miniature Book News, his quarterly newsletter, of the 114 smallest books in
the world. Except for one 1674 Dutch edition, all the books were under
one-quarter inch and published in the 20th century onward.
As technology has improved printing techniques, some printers compete to
make the world's smallest book. But that's raised a whole new issue: How do
you accurately measure something so small?
A Siberian edition of Anton Chekhov's "A Chameleon" published in 1996 is
often considered the world's smallest book, at 0.9 millimeter square. In
2000, Japan's Toppan Printing Co. created an edition of the Chinese Zodiac,
measuring 0.95 millimeter square. But when Mr. Edison got copies of both
books and laid them side by side, he says several people thought the
Japanese book looked smaller. He points out that with 100 copies printed of
each edition, individual books could be slightly different. "You're talking
about a difference of 5/100ths of a millimeter."
Even some purists don't see much point in texts getting that tiny. A book
under 1 millimeter is "sort of ridiculous" says Mr. Bradbury, the book
dealer. "If you breathed in while you were looking at it, it would go up
As for the 125 miniature books stranded in New Orleans, they were finally
recovered last month, found crated up in the library, where they had sitting
been since Katrina hit. They were sent to the University of North Texas,
which has its own miniature-book collection, for inspection and
Most survived in fairly good condition, with only some minor wear and tear.
About 25 were damaged. The rest were shipped to the Cushing Memorial Library
at Texas A&M University, where they will be on display beginning this week.
Write to Susan Warren at susan.warren@xxxxxxx
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The Guild of Book Workers' Centennial Celebration:
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