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Miniature Books Through the Years

Miniature Books by the Numbers

Miniature Books at Oxy

Resources & Acknowledgements

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Miniature Books: Then and Now

An online exhibition of miniature books and how they have evolved throughout the years.

There is a great deal of debate amongst miniature book collectors and rare books scholars about what constitutes a miniature “book.”  For example, in her book The History of Miniature Books, Doris Welsh writes that the first miniature books were clay tablets (about 1x1 inches) dating back at least 4,000 years.  Next followed miniature scrolls and miniature manuscripts, but it was not until about 500 years ago that the first miniature book as we know it today was printed.  In the 16th century, about 200 miniature books were printed, among them 46 editions of the Bible, 4 editions of Dante, and 2 editions of Ovid.  Religious texts and great works of literature were printed in small editions, some commissioned by printers to test their apprentices with small type, and some printed for their convenience: miniature books could easily fit into pockets, strap onto to girdles, or fashionably slip into ladies’ handbags. 

Miniature books were also popularly used for children because their small size made them more accessible.  They often contained Bible stories to familiarize children with scripture, and lessons so that they could learn to read at home.

 After the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, however, paper became easier to make and books became cheaper to bind.  No longer meticulously created in editions of less than a hundred, miniature books were dispensed as prizes from gumball machines, handed out by the American Tract Society of New York, and became more popular than ever.  Today, there is a growing market of miniature titles fashioned for popular consumption.  Miniature magazines, miniature books, and miniature religious tracts continue to be rapidly produced.  Running Press, which prints such small books as Mini Bonsai Kit (Robert King, Running Press: 2001) and The Mini Zen Gardening Kit (Abd Al-Hayy Moore, Running Press: 2000), produces novelty items that sell at Borders and Barnes and Noble Bookstores.  These impulse buys are scorned by miniature book collectors like Weber for their mass-produced, cheap quality.  However, miniature artists’ books and finely bound books are still made and are popular amongst collectors.


Website designed by
Jessica Low '07
2007-2008 Library Fellow
Mellon Librarian Recruitment Program


" All the way home I kept remembering

The small book in my pocket.  It was there. "

-Robert Frost, "A Fountain, a Bottle, A Donkey’s Ears, and Some Books.”

Page last edited by on 03/06/2013.
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