Smallest book in the world - well, almost!
26 October 2011
Miniature books are a fascinating art, and we have some tiny treasures in our collection. While libraries often have a broader definition of miniature books (based a bit on shelving requirements), for afficianados they are generally defined as measuring up to 3 inches or 76 millimetres in height. They are almost as old as writing itself, with tiny examples of cuneiform tablets possibly the first "minis". In the Middle Ages, tiny bibles, prayer books, psalms, the classics and poetry were made so they could be carried in a pocket or bag or attached to a belt. Later there was a real craze for making tiny books just for their own sake - to see how small they could be. This has continued to the present day. The world record holder for the smallest book appears to be Anatoly Konenko. His version of Anton Chekhov's story "Chameleon" is less than a square millimeter in size, and includes three hand-coloured illustrations. Absolutely amazing! Would love to have this, but we do hold something almost as small in our collection. It is called The smallest book in the world = das kleinste Buch der Welt and although this may sound like a false claim, it is said to be the smallest published book in the world as it was printed in a limited edition of 300 copies, rather than a one-off handcrafted item. It was produced by Josua Reichert and is an ABC picture book of a colourful alphabet. It measures just 2.4 x 2.9 mm and is in a wooden box including a magnifying glass. Reichart says “It was printed in the usual way, but all the machinery and tools had to be created in miniature first.” In the image below, the actual book is the tiny round sopt in the centre of the case (looks like a microdot!)
Book in case with accompanying leaflet showing an "eye-readable" version of the contents of the book
Miniature books are often really beautiful artifacts, with lovely bindings and cases and tiny tools such as tweezers or a magnifying glass to help view them and turn the pages. Schloss's English bijou almanac for 1839 / poetically illustrated by L.E.L is a wonderful example of the craft held by the National Library. Schloss was renowned for his delicately executed creations, often inlaid and presented in a clasped velvet or silk case.
There is a rather sad story about the author of this book - referred to as L.E.L., her name was Letitia Elizabeth Landon. She wrote poetry and prose for literary journals, as well as these almanacs. Apparently she had several rather scandalous affairs, and then a marriage in June 1838 to George Maclean, British Governor of the Gold Coast. He became ill soon after their arrival, and while nursing him Letitia overdosed (or suicided?) on one of her medications - reputedly Prussic acid.