It was in the early 1920s that Princess Marie Louise suggested to her friend, Queen Mary, the idea to build a doll house. Queen Mary, a lover of “tiny craft,” received the idea well, and the house was built between 1921 and 1924. Many craftsmen were able to showcase their talents in the building of this miniature house, and at its completion was given to Queen Mary as a sign of respect from the whole nation. Complete with working lifts, electricity, running water, a fully stocked wine cellar and kitchen, the small work of art also holds another treasure: a library full of 200 miniature books. Authors such as Rudyard Kipling, JM Barrie, and Sir Arthur Conan Dyle were asked to contribute to the collection. Each book is hand-bound and features a tiny bookplate drawn by EH Shepherd.
One such book by Vita Sackville-West, written specifically for the doll house library, was recently discovered in 2017 to have never been published. Bound in white leather and described as “an absolute gem”, the little book is a testament to how miniature books remain a constant source of fascination.
According to the Miniature Book Society, a miniature book is “no more than three inches in height, width, or thickness”. Though some say the earliest miniature books were Sumarian clay tablets dating back to 2500 BC, the earliest miniature book as we would know it—bound and printed—came into being in the 16th century. For some reason humans just have an affinity for creating small things, whether for convenince, or just to show that it can be done.
And it’s true, many of the first miniature books in the middle ages and later were created for convenience—in order to keep a religious text (like the bible) close to you at all times, for example, or miniature books of etiquette for ladies to keep in their pockets just in case one forgot how to be proper. As time wore on, the convenience meter went down, and the “for show” meter went up.
Limits began to be pushed in the 19th century, and have continued to be into the present. In 1878, a copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy was finished after what is said to have been an 11 year endeavor. The book, called the “fly’s eye Dante” is a mere 1.25 by 1.75 inches. It is bound in red leather, embossed with gold, and is the world’s smallest edition of the Divine Comedy. Complete with magnifying glass, the world’s smallest authorized Bible was crafted by David Bryce in 1896. Only an inch in width, the book received “many a scoff and jeer as to the absurdity of the production”. In 1952, a five-by-five millimeter edition of the Lord’s Prayer in six languages was made by Munich publisher. A Russian scientist has recently created what is said to be the tiniest book in the world, measuring 70-by-90 micrometers, and requires a sharpened metal needle to turn the pages.
Without a doubt, miniature books are special. As stated by Garcia-Onteveros, “It’s the feeling that you can hold the entire works of Shakespeare in your hands.” There’s nothing like it. Though not seen all the time as serious books, they hold you captive like nothing else can. It takes exceptional skill to make and yet can be held in the palm of a hand. It causes you to look closer and closer until you can’t look anymore.
Why Are We Fascinated By Miniature Books https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jan/03/why-we-are-fascinated-by-miniature-books