Miniature books

Miniature New Testament
Full New

By the generally accepted definition, a miniature book is one whose height and width do not exceed three inches, that is 7.5cm. Although often thought of as predominantly creations of the 19th and 20th centuries, miniature books date back as far as the introduction of moveable type.

The first printed miniature book on record is an 'Officium Beatae Virginis Maria' (5.2cm x 4.5cm) printed in 1475, a mere 20 years after Gutenberg printed his 42-line Bible. The National Library of Scotland actively collects miniature books with a Scottish connection.

The smallest printed book in the Library's collection is an edition of 'Old King Cole' (1mm x 1mm) published in Paisley in 1985 (shelfmark: FB.s.307). Pride of place goes to the Library's growing collection of books produced by the Glasgow publisher David Bryce & Sons. Bryce was active around the turn of the 19th century and took an active interest in the latest technological advances in photolithography and electroplates to allow larger volumes to be reduced to the smallest imaginable size. The result is that his publications are prized for the clarity and legibility of their texts. A perfect example is the miniature New Testament, which he published in 1895 (shelfmark: ABS.4.203.05(4)). Although measuring only 3cm in height, the text is perfectly legible with the aid of the magnifying glass inset into the metal locket that accompanies the Bible.

Miniature dictionary
Larger dictionary

Metal lockets with inset magnifying glasses accompanied many of Bryce's publications. An outstanding example is the 'New Pocket Dictionary of the English and German Languages', dated Glasgow 1896, and encapsulated in an exquisite silver box (shown left), which has been engraved on its upper side with images of plant life and flying swallows.

Miniature Koran
Larger Koran

One of the more famous of Bryce's publications is the Koran, printed entirely in Arabic and first issued around 1900. Copies were frequently issued to Muslim soldiers fighting with the Allied troops during World War I. The metal locket allowed it to be easily worn around the neck of the soldier.

Further reading

  • Bondy, Louis W. 'Miniature books, their history from the beginnings to the present day'. Farnham: Richard Joseph, 1994 (shelfmark: H2.95.340)
  • 'The Microbibliophile'. Vol. 1, no. 1 (Mar. 1977) — 'A bi-monthly review of the literature concerning miniature books.' (HJ8.667 SER)
  • Welsh, Doris V. 'The history of miniature books'. Albany, NY: Fort Orange Press, 1987 (H3.89.2371)
  • Welsh, Doris V. 'A bibliography of miniature books (1470-1965)'. Cobleskill, NY: K I Rickard, 1989 (SU.18)


Rare books subjects and date ranges


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