Display of miniature books

World's smallest books on display at National Library of Scotland

A book no bigger than a grain of rice that once held the record as the smallest in the world will feature in a fascinating new display of miniature books at the National Library of Scotland.

'Old King Cole', published in 1985 by the Gleniffer Press in Paisley, measures only 0.9mm in height. It is the smallest book in the National Library's collections and will appear alongside some 90 other miniature books in the new display opening today (September 18). It held the lithographic world record for 20 years but the title now belongs to a book published in Japan that measures just 0.74 x 0.75mm.

Miniature books have long held a fascination for people of all ages. They contain all the features found in ordinary-sized books but great skill is needed to produce these miniature versions. 'Many are works of art or miracles of technology and are highly collectable,' said James Mitchell, the curator who has put the display together.

The National Library of Scotland actively collects miniature books with a Scottish connection and is celebrating this unusual form of publishing by displaying some of the best examples from its collection. Entry to 'Miniature books in Scotland' is free and the display is on until November 17.

A miniature book is generally defined as one that is less than 7.5cm (3in) in height and width. They are often thought to be predominantly creations of the 19th and 20th centuries but, in fact, 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) that was printed in 1475, a mere 20 years after Gutenberg printed his famous Bible.

Scotland has been an important centre of miniature book production since the 19th century. From the 1870s to the First World War the Glasgow firm of David Bryce & Son became one of the most successful miniature book publishers in the world. David Bryce (1845-1923) inherited his father's publishing house and made the move into miniature books when he realised they sold much better than standard books.

Early in his career he produced a full-size edition of the works of Robert Burns that only sold 5,000 copies in three years. He reformatted it into two miniature books and before long sold over 100,000 copies. Bryce eventually published over 40 miniature titles, becoming a wealthy man and a prominent figure in Glasgow business life.

In the latter part of the 20th century the Gleniffer Press carried on the tradition of producing miniature books in Scotland. The press was founded in 1967 by Helen and Ian Macdonald as a hobby private press, producing home and business stationery. By the early 1970s, it became noted throughout the world for making miniature books and was active in this field until 2007, when it closed after 40 years, having produced 57 different titles.

'This display celebrates the miniature book and the worldwide contribution that Scotland has made to this highly skilled form of publishing,' said James Mitchell. 'There are many delightful examples on display and we hope visitors to the Library will enjoy seeing them.'

'Miniature books in Scotland' is on at NLS on George 1V Bridge, Edinburgh. Entry is free.


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18 September 2013

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