Good things do, indeed, come in small packages when examining miniature books. Although miniaturisation of reading material has been an on-going process since the Babylonians were in business around 1500 BC, the present definition of a miniature book is any book that is less than about 3 inches in width or length.
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.
By the 19th century, books in general had become more affordable and miniature books really came into vogue. As with earlier eras, they were prized because they were portable Napoleon Bonaparte was known to have assembled a miniature library that accompanied him on his conquests around Europe. He may even have placed them on a miniature shelf like this one.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, books from almost every genre were available as miniatures, including classic fiction, dictionaries, bibles, prayer books, and other non-fiction works like fishing guides where the user was out and about. Publishers also began producing miniature libraries for children, specially designing the books to be more comfortably held in small hands.
As printing and binding techniques improved, book makers displayed their skills by creating even smaller books with increasingly intricate and beautiful bindings. Today it is possible to find miniature books smaller than half an inch featuring gilt and intricate designs.
We recommend Miniature Books: 4,000 Years of Tiny Treasures by Anne Bromer as the key book about miniature books. Anne is part of Bromer Booksellers – one of the finest rare bookdealers on AbeBooks.
For an excellent selection of affordable miniature books, browse these little beauties from John Howell for Books.
Just like bibles, miniature versions of the Qur’an have been popular.
A beautiful filigree (twisted threads of metal) binding with a leaf ornament.
Published in 1758, a set of pocket maps for the known world – the size of a pack of cards
First published in 1891, The Mite lived up to its name and was once the smallest English book ever printed.
The Coming of Arthur
Lord Alfred Tennyson
Little Leather Library Edition - tiny treasure at 4" tall and 3" wide.
Mites and other Poems
Lord John Press published a limited (just 200) miniature edition of Updike’s poetry.
A miniature prayer book from Holland published in 1683, 1 ½” x 1 1/16”
First and only edition of a children's library on many school subjects, preserved in its original box.
Beautifully illustrated French children’s annual – just 2 5/8” x 1 13/16”.
Le Petit Poucet
A very small version (1 ½” x 1 3/16”) of this well-known fable.
Photographs of Paris mounted on plates of thin gold-covered metal.
The Rose Garden of Omar Khayyam
Eben Francis Thompson
A famous miniature book (3/16” x 7/32"), considered the smallest book in the world at one time.
A Birthday Memoir
Francis J Weber
Measuring 1 3/4 x 1 1/2", this book is signed by the publisher
Dark blue leather with title gilt on the spine, and with presidential design on the front cover.
A collection of grotesque paintings – signed deluxe edition.
Ilias et Odyssea
A stunning small book from Greece - text in Greek.
Quintus Horatius Flaccus
Works of the Roman poet Horace, written in Latin (3 3/8” x 2 1/16”).
Speeches and Letters of George Washington
Little Leather Library edition - originally promotional items through the mail. 4" tall by 3" wide.
This German almanac was published in 1834 and is 7/8” x 5/8 - a technical marvel for the time.
An Imperfect Solution
No. 36 of 50, signed by D’Ambrosio. Five boxes including various items like shells, pearls, flowers etc.
The New House
First edition, limited to 250 numbered copies
A Voyage to Lilliput & A Voyage to Brobdingnag
Gulliver’s Travels in two volumes, a giant book (13 3/8” x 18 ½”) and a tiny one (2 ½” x 3 ½”).
A five-color lithographed booklet published in 1917.
A miniature Dutch almanac in an emblematic embroidered binding, circa 1786.
Red miniature library edition circa 1920-1921, 4"x3"
Measures just 1” x ¾” and is encased in a metal locket with built-in magnifier.
The Twenty Third Psalm
Illustrated by Tudor, this miniature measures 3 11/16” x 2 13/16”
Fairy tale ending for a boy who rescues a dwarf and is given magic fir cones to help him gain his princess.
Real leather edition circa 1915-1916, 3"x4"
Miniature Books 4,000 Years of Tiny Treasures
A History of Miniature Books
Doris V. Welsh
Louis W. Bondy
The Miniature Book Collector
Ruth E. Adomeit
Making Books by Hand
Peter & Donna Thomas