Novelty Items are Collector’s Items Today
At first glance, you might think an antique miniature book is something made for children, or perhaps a tiny dollhouse miniature. In fact, miniature antique books have been around for centuries.
Initially published primarily for personal convenience, the little volumes – usually measuring 3″ inches tall or less – were often toted around in men’s waistcoat pockets and ladies’ reticules (small handbags).
This practice was considered ideal; carrying around a book effortlessly was very appealing. For some people, the micro size was a social weapon of sorts, obscuring the text from the eyes around the room, after all, knowledge is power!
Common topics of antique miniature books
Early American miniature books along with most European miniature books started off like their larger contemporaries – the texts were typically on religious or moral subjects and the bindings were plain.
As miniature books became more popular, the subject matter contained within these minute works greatly expanded and by the time the eighteenth century rolled around, there was a vast array of different types of miniature books including children’s books and poetry.
Miniature books from almost every genre were available throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, including classic fiction, dictionaries, Bibles, prayer books, and even non-fiction works like fishing guides, designed for the reader out in the field. Publishers also began producing libraries of miniature books for children, specially designing the books to be more comfortably held in small hands.
The New York Public Library definition of miniature books: “Our classification for miniature books is that the height of the spine is less than three inches tall.”
How were antique miniature books made?
As printing and book binding techniques improved, book makers displayed their skills by creating even smaller books with increasingly intricate and beautiful bindings. The ability to make and bind a book in miniature was (and is) a special talent and would prove an asset in showcasing a bookbinder’s technique and skill.
Miniature books were created using (roughly) the same methods as full size books, but also appeared as fold-outs, scrolls, accordion-styles or pop-up books.
Text in the pages of the miniature books was written by hand calligraphy, by lithography or letterpress. Today, computers make creating a modern miniature book very simple by comparison.
Today it is possible to find miniature antique books smaller than half an inch featuring gilt work and intricate designs!
What is the world’s smallest printed book?
The smallest book in the world, “Levsha”, hails from Russia and measures just 0.07mm x 0.09mm (70 by 90 micrometers).
How small is that? Well, the average cross-section of a human hair measures 50 microns. In fact, the human eye cannot even see anything smaller than 40 microns in size.
By turning its 22 miniature pages, the reader can view tiny photos of various flowers as they appear throughout the four seasons of the year. Printed in a limited edition of just 250 copies, the book is named after Nikolai Leskov’s 19th-century story “The Steel Flea”.
How the world’s smallest miniature book was made:
To create this miniature book, the text is printed onto sheets of film around three microns thick (for size comparison, a human red blood cell is about 5 microns in width). The finished book is placed into half a poppyseed and displayed on gold plates. The pages of the book can be turned using a sharpened needle.
What are antique miniature books worth?
Lots of factors influence the values of miniature antique books, including rarity, subject matter and antiquity. Some of the most expensive miniature books include:
- c1530 Miniature Book of Hours on vellum (Sold at Christie’s for $953,000 in 2001)
- c1570, Plantin’s miniature Kalendarium Evangelia (Sold at auction for $26,000 in 2017)
- c1765, Verbum Sempiternum, the Bible in miniature (Sold at auction for $5,750 in 2004)
- c1878, Dante’s “Divine Comedy”, “La Divina Commedia” in miniature (Sold at auction for $960 in 2011)
Other more common miniature books, some dating from the 1800s – 1930s, can range in price from $5 – $400, depending on what they are.
Highlights of Miniature Antique Books at Auction
Over the years, we have had some very interesting miniature antique books sell at auction.
Here are three of our favorites:
The English Bijou (19th Century)
Smaller than a matchstick, this tiny miniature book called The English Bijou was produced in 1836. We sold this miniature book at auction for $455 in November, 2014.
Before examining the Bijou, the user would encounter its beautiful carrying case, an intricately designed little box covered in leather and lined in champagne colored velvet. Originally, the box would also have contained a miniature magnifying glass.
The Bijou itself is an almanac and was so small that it could nearly fit onto a quarter coin.
Satcheled Almanac (19th Century)
Measuring just 1 ¼” square, this miniature antique almanac was produced at the turn of the 19th century, and is encased in a gorgeous red leather satchel with a working clasp. We sold this miniature almanac at auction for $307 in November, 2014.
Examples with clasps in this condition are rare and highly sought after by miniature antique book collectors. Inside, beautifully colorful marbled endpapers encased a detailed almanac for the year of 1800.
The piece even includes a little pocket for storage; some used it for inserting stamps.
Jeremiah Rich’s New Testament in Shorthand (17th Century)
This work ranks among the oldest we’ve auctioned and one of the most valuable. We sold this book at auction for $3,506 in November, 2014.
Published around 1673, it features the text of the book of the New Testament written in shorthand, or stenographic characters and its companion, the book of Psalms in Meter according to the art of short-writing. Two volumes in one, the work is engraved throughout, engraved titles and portrait-frontispieces of Rich, list of subscribers, bound in contemporary morocco gilt.
Jeremiah Rich was a 17th century English stenographer who was famous for his system of shorthand writing. In a 2011 episode of BBC’s Antiques Roadshow, a similar miniature Bible by Rich was valued between $1,200 – $1,800.
If you need help placing a value on a miniature book, feel free to contact us for a free evaluation. Though antique miniature books don’t come up very often, we love the opportunity to see them and they’re always popular items at auction.