Originally published on the Smithsonian Collections Blog …
Good books can be found in a variety of formats, including tiny bindings. The Libraries has over 50 miniature books scattered among its collections in the Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, the Smithsonian American Art & National Portrait Gallery Library, and the Bradley Room of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum Library.
Measuring 3 inches or less, these unusual books are practical as well as whimsical. Although examples of miniature books have been found dating back to ancient times, the format became most popular in the 19th century, when advances in printing technology and illustration techniques facilitated the mass production of these books.
Easily tucked inside a wallet or pocket, these volumes are often plain and utilitarian, although many examples are elaborately decorated. Two excellent histories of this genre include Louis W. Bondy's Miniature Books: Their History From the Beginnings to the Present Day (1981), and Doris V. Welsh's The History of Miniature Books (1987).
The specimens in the Libraries' collections date chiefly from the 19th and 20th centuries, and include, for example, Bibles, almanacs, poetry, and children's books. Some of these little treasures have pop-ups or other feats of paper engineering.
Shown here (top) are two shelves of miniature books from the Dibner Library, including these two examples:
Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Bijou edition). London: Henry Frowde and sold by Edgar J. Vickery, Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, [not after 1916]. Call number: m PS2263 .A1 1916 SCDIRB (middle).
Witty, Humorous and Merry Thoughts, selected by T.M. [i.e. Thomas Mason]. Glasgow: David Bryce & Son, [1895?]. This volume is housed in a decorated metal locket-like case with a magnifying glass mounted on the front cover, apparently as issued. Call number: mPN6175 .W83 SCDIRB (bottom).
Because of their size, miniature books present special challenges for shelving, preservation, and exhibition, but this fact only adds to their appeal as curiosities and collectibles.
—Diane Shaw, Special Collections Cataloger