Go to page content

Tale of scale

Miniature book exhibit at QEII Library until Dec. 15


By Kristine Power

Patrick Warner has collected miniature books so small he jokes they could be a moth’s lunch.

Like many people during the early days of the pandemic, the special collections librarian at the Queen Elizabeth II Library turned his attention to a project to occupy his time during lockdown.

In Mr. Warner’s case, it was creating a catalogue highlighting 35 miniature books in Memorial University Libraries’ Special Collections Division, some of which are currently part of a display called Veritable Bijoux: a tale of scale (also the name of his catalogue).

Miniature books are generally smaller than three inches in height and width and have been around since the third or fourth century.

Devotional texts, almanacs, plays, poetry and children’s books are just some of the genres covered in the miniature book format.

From ancient clay tablets to modern ion beams, miniature books adapt to advancing methods in printing and technology.

However, their charm is timeless.

Specks of books

One micro-miniature book in the Libraries’ collection and part of Mr. Warner’s catalogue is The Twelve Horary Signs — Chinese Zodiac.

It is smaller than a fruit fly and measures a mere 0.95 millimeters square. The book is housed in a round plastic case that can be opened.

“It’s charming and serious all at the same time.” — Patrick Warner

Each page of this speck of a book bears an illustration of the animal representing a zodiac sign along with the name of the animal in both English and Japanese.

It was the Guinness World Record holder in 2000 for the smallest precision-printed book in the world.

“For many people who enjoy miniature books, the pleasure is not so much technical or historical as it is emotional,” writes Mr. Warner in the introduction to his catalogue. “Whenever I show miniature books to students, I notice very similar reactions: goofy grins, clenched body posture and a desire to get closer to the object — in short, delight.”

This delight is something Mr. Warner hopes the viewer of his exhibit will also feel.

“I think my favorite miniature is the 1900 Frowde edition of The Compleat Angler, because it manages to be a miniature (2 inches by 1.75 inches) without sacrificing anything in terms of design or legibility,” said Mr. Warner. “It even manages to have fine illustrations. It’s charming and serious all at the same time.”

Items in special collections do not generally circulate and can only be accessed under supervised conditions; therefore, the exhibit Veritable Bijoux: a tale of scale offers a unique opportunity.

Veritable Bijoux: a tale of scale is on display on the third floor of the Queen Elizabeth II Library until Dec. 15.

The accompanying catalogue is online.

Check out a number of photos of the miniature books with captions by Mr. Warner in the photo essay below.

1/ Book of Hours

"The text of this recent micro-miniature book is readable only with a magnifying glass. The first 20 pages describe books of hours as 15th-century manuscripts that were highly prized as status symbols in their day. This is followed by a description of 25 illuminations with a full-page illustration of each. Interestingly, given that books of hours are known for their brilliant and vibrant colours, Raheb’s iteration is entirely in black and white." Raheb, Barbara J. (illus.). Book of Hours. Van Nuys, CA: Collector Editions in Miniature, 1979. 1 1/4ʺ by 7/8ʺ. 70, (2) pp. 127/300 numbered copies. Includes numerous illustrations by Barbara Raheb. Black leather binding, elaborately gilt-stamped with four jewel-like stones affixed to the front cover. Bookplate. -Veritable Bijoux: a tale of scale, p. 65

Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp photo; text by Patrick Warner

2/ Holy Bible

"The micro-miniature contains 29 pages of text, including an explanation of the production of the accompanying ultra-micro-miniature. The micro-miniature is bound in red paper wrappers. The micro-miniature volume is bound in red, gilt-stamped leather covers with a gold cross on the front. Both the miniature and ultra-micro-miniature are housed within a sliding plastic drawer inside a red plastic case. The case fits into an embossed red leather bag. The 24 pages of the main text contain 45 words to the page. The type used is 0.005 inches high, or the equivalent of 0.34 point, and its stem is 0.0010 inches or about one third the diameter of a human hair. The unique process calls for the use of a Japanese high-resolution lens to take a camera proof of a phototype set of the original (from the 3⁄4-inch version of the above work). Since the invention of micro-type, printers and designers have laboured to produce the world’s smallest book. Technological advances led to smaller and smaller editions. This miniscule marvel of printing was published at the time of the New York World’s Fair of 1964–65 using a new process called “microprinting.” Holy Bible. King James Version. Tokyo: Toppan Printing Co., 1965. This set includes two versions of the first chapter of Genesis, a micro-miniature book measuring 3/4 of an inch square and an ultra-micro-miniature measuring 4 millimetres square. -Veritable Bijoux: a tale of scale, p. 61

Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp photo; text by Patrick Warner

3/ La Divina Commedia di Dante

"One of 1,000 copies. The type, cut by Antonio Farina in 1834 but never used by him, was cast in 1850 for this edition of Dante and is thought to be the smallest ever used at the time. According to Bondy, “the most widely discussed and the most sensational of all microscopic type-faces used in miniature books is undoubtedly the "fly’s eye type," occhio di mosca, used by the brothers Salmin in Padua for their Dante of 1878.” It took a full month to print just 30 pages of this work, which is said to have damaged the eyesight of both compositor and corrector. The printing of 1,000 copies was completed “a gloria di Dante” in Padua in June 1878 under the supervision of Gaetano Gianuzzi. Afterwards, the type was distributed, and most of the printed leaves were purchased and published by Hoepli, who inserted his own title page in black and red in the Dantino, the pet name given to this edition." Alighieri, Dante. La Divina Commedia di Dante. Milano: Ulrico Hoepli, 1878. 2 1/8ʺ by 1 3/8ʺ. 499 pp. In a contemporary binding of full gilt-decorated reddish brown morocco with four raised bands and gilt on the spine. Page edges in red and comb-marbled endpapers. -Veritable Bijoux: a tale of scale, p. 41

Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp photo; text by Patrick Warner

4/ The Twelve Horary Signs — Chinese Zodiac

"Two volumes. According to the accompanying prospectus, this ultra-micro-miniature containing the Chinese zodiac was the 2000 Guinness World Records holder for the smallest precision-printed book in the world, measuring a mere 0.95 millimetres square. Remarkably, each page of this speck of a book bears an illustration of the animal representing a zodiac sign, along with the name of the animal in both English and Japanese. The book is housed within a compartment in a round plastic case that can be opened or sealed by means of a clear, rotating cover. A larger version of the book in full red morocco accompanies the micro-miniature, along with a brass-colored magnifying glass on a chain. The micro-miniature in its plastic case, the larger version, and magnifying glass are all housed in a velvet-lined clasping box, the exterior of which is in gilt-decorated red leather, and this in turn is housed in a tray case within a paper-covered folding box bearing the Printing Museum’s logo in gilt on the cover. The work was published to commemorate the centennial anniversary of Toppan Printing and the opening of the Printing Museum in Tokyo." The Twelve Horary Signs — Chinese Zodiac. Tokyo: Toppan Printing Co., 2000. .95 mm square. (16) pp. -Veritable Bijoux: a tale of scale, p. 68

Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp photo; text by Patrick Warner


To receive news from Memorial in your inbox, subscribe to Gazette Now.

Latest News

Creative spark

Literary festival will showcase local writers in celebratory setting

Indigenous insights

The Rooms and Anthropology department host speaker series

Skill building

Research office offering Memorial community free access to IBM digital program

Open for business

Tackling sustainability at Hatcher House thrift shop on April 20

‘Our programs are working’

Memorial University students takes first and second place at global finance competitions

Budget response

Memorial responds to 2024 federal budget