When I was young and believed in Santa Claus I used to get small presents in my Santa stocking. Such presents could be fruit (a throwback to the Victorian age or post-World War II Ireland) or a magnet. If I were to instill an interest in books could I fit a book in a Santa stocking? Well it would have to be a pretty small book, perhaps even miniature and yes, they do exist!
Miniature books, usually prayer books, appeared in Europe during the Middle Ages. They were tiny in order to be easily carried and also so they could be concealed from prying eyes. Miniature books became more popular in the last few decades of the 19th century because they were portable and easy to conceal.
The Library of Congress defines miniature books as four inches and smaller in each direction. However many collectors state that a true miniature book does not exceed three inches in each direction. There are also several distinctions between the miniature book sizes:
- a macro-mini is between three and four inches (7.62 – 10.16cm) in each direction
- a miniature is between two and three inches (5.08 – 7.62cm) in each direction
- a micro-mini is between one and two inches (2.54 – 5.08 cm) in each direction
- an ultra-micro-mini is smaller than one inch (<2.54cm) in each direction.
Famous Miniature Books & Collectors
Anne Boleyn’s Gold Book is part of Stowe 956 and is held in the British Library. Anne Boleyn purportedly handed this miniature book of psalms, which contain a portrait of Henry VIII, to one of her maids of honour when on the scaffold in 1536. This precious manuscript is owned by The British Library.
This miniature is a girdle book which is designed to be worn as an accessory. The leather continued loose below the cover of the book in a long tapered tail with a large knot at the end which could be tucked into one’s girdle or belt. This is shown in its binding which is original worked gilt covers (metalwork) with clasp and girdle loops.
Its dimensions are 40 x 30mm for the binding and 30 x 20mm for the folios. There are ff. 104 (+ 1 original parchment double-leaf, glued together, at the beginning, and 1 at the end). It’s written in English in a Gothic script. It dates from c.1540.
Louis Bondy (1910 – 1993) was a well-known antiquarian bookseller and a 20th century collector of miniature books.
This short video shows Louis Bondy (1952) removing some of the miniature books in his collection from a portable library. This clip has been made available from British Pathé.
Miniature Books in UCC Library
UCC Library is not an active collector as the National Library of Scotland is but we do hold a number of miniature books held in Special Collections and UCC Library Archives. A 50 cent piece has been included in each photo for scale purposes.
Amongst the Cooke, Friedlander, Torna and Older Printed Book Collections are eight miniature books. These miniature books range from philosophical discussions to hymnals to books of scripture to dictionaries. They’re written in English, French and Irish and printed in Dublin, London and Paris.
Despite their size these books have been produced beautifully. The Book of Common Prayer has a clasp to ensure that it stays together. All the edges on this book are gilt.
Within the Dorman Collection in UCC Library Archives Service are six miniature (between two and three inches (5.08 – 7.62cm) in each direction) almanacs.
These almanacs are leather bound Victoria Miniature Almanacks and are for the years 1851 – 1857. They have a flap and gilt edges. The contents of each almanac varies but can contain information on:
- eclipses and the moon
- Dr Herschel’s weather table (Dr William Herschel discovered Uranus in 1751).
- important dates in each month
- bankers in London
- businesses such as General Post Office
- the Royal Family and sovereigns of Europe
- population of Europe
- ballroom guide
- language of flowers
- notes on chess, whist and drafts
The Victoria Miniature Almanacks have a decorative frontispiece plate such as that of 1853-1854 which shows Walmer Castle. Walmer Castle was erected about the time of Henry VIII and formed a portion of the military defences of the Kentish coast. Others have a plate of Queen Victoria.
Almanacs are topical at this time of year and the Victoria Miniature Almanack gives space for notes to be made alongside printed events of importance for particular dates.
I wonder what if I’ll get a miniature book this Christmas, perhaps an almanack? Tune in January 2016 for an update!
Anne Boleyn’s Gold Book (Stowe 956) may be found in:
- O’Connor, Charles. Bibliotheca Ms. Stowensis: A Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Stowe Library. Buckingham: Printed by J. Seeley, 1818-1819. II, 58.
- Catalogue of the Stowe Manuscripts in the British Museum. Nachdr. d. Ausg., London, 1895-96. Hildesheim; New York: Olms, 1973. I, no. 956.
Dr Herschel’s Weather Table may be found in:
- Starr, John R. “Herschel’s Weather Table.” Weather 57.3 (2002): 99 – 100.
Arondal, John. A Dictionary for Men and Some Women. London: Leopold B. Hill, [ca. 1916].
Aurelius, Marcus. Pensées de Marc-Auréle. Traduction Nouvelle par G.Michaut. Paris: Payot et Cie, [n.d.]. 9.7 x 7cm
The Book of Common Prayer: Of the Church of England, with explanatory notes. Preface by Right Rev. William Beveridge DD, Lord Bishop of St. Asaph. London: Renshaw and Kirkman, 1845. 10 x 7cm
Clarke, Samuel. A Collection of Scripture Promises: Under Their Proper Heads. London, Edinburgh, New York: T. Nelson and Sons, 1859. 10.5 x 6.8cm
Héraclite d’Ephèse. Pensées Philosophiques. Traduites par Maurice Solovine; préface de Anatole France. Paris : Payot, [1918?]. 9.7 x 7 cm
Victoria Miniature Almanack 1851 (BL/SC/OD/2) Dorman Collection. 6.4cm x 4cm.
Victoria Miniature Almanack 25 Dec. 1851 – 1852 (BL/SC/OD/3) Dorman Collection. 6.3cm x 3.8cm.
Victoria Miniature Almanack 27 Dec. 1853 – 1854 (BL/SC/OD/6) Dorman Collection. 6.2cm x 3.8cm.