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Teeny Tomes

Mini Issue: Miniature Books


Published June 18, 2008 at 5:40 a.m.


Large-print books have an obvious function. But if you’ve ever purchased a little pamphlet containing handmade art or poetry from the “Glad-i-ator” in Montpelier’s Langdon Street Café, you’ve felt the pull of pocket-sized aesthetic joys. Formal presses and fine artists can attest to the charms of small type. In the history of print, miniature books are a mighty force with a devoted following of creators, collectors and cataloguers.

What exactly makes a book “miniature”? According to the Special Collections division of the University of Vermont Library, a volume must measure no more than 5.5 inches on its longest side to qualify. Generally, though, there’s no standard for what constitutes “collectably small.” The Miniature Book Society, an international nonprofit, considers the maximum measurement to be 3 inches, but in other cases, it could mean whatever a collector considers “cute.”

Why collect Lilliputian libraries? Given their size and fragility, centuries-old mini books are rare, which makes them valuable. And because they often showcase the skills of type-founders, printers and binders, those that survive can offer a unique window into a lost era, or a way to trace innovations in book history.

Mini books require considerable planning and skill but minimal resources, which is probably why they’re still being made. UVM’s collection consists mostly of 20th-century codices, plus a variety of miniature “art” books — books made as works of art, many of which deviate from the standard bound-volume shape into elaborate, interactive objects. Several of UVM’s miniatures were authored, printed or bound in the Green Mountains. Why does the university have a collection at all? Says Prudence Doherty, the public services librarian at UVM Special Collections: “Someone took an interest in them, I suppose.”

It’s not hard to see why. Among UVM’s Vermont volumes, several are by Newark-based book artist Claire Van Vliet of the Janus Press. A fan of handmade papers, she created Tumbling Blocks for Pris and Bruce, a cut-out alphabet of interlocked letters that folds into a 2.3-inch cube. The trick? It was created entirely from materials left over from another, regular-sized book fashioned as a paper-and-ink ode to friendship quilts.

Stephanie Wolff’s 2005 Stream speaks volumes without a word; when opened, the accordion-style “tunnel book” offers a three-dimensional, pop-up cross-section of a riverbed full of fish, just a finger’s length wide. Two teeny codices were both printed at Woodstock’s Lilliputter Press in the early 1960s: Ruth Adomeit’s The Little Cookie Book, a minuscule-yet-functional, illustrated collection of the author’s favorite sweet-snack recipes; and a teensy souvenir pamphlet for an international Girl Scout gathering held at Button Bay in 1962.

Frank Teagle ran the aptly named Lilliputter Press as a hobby from the 1960s through the early ’90s; he passed away in 1997. Jane Adelson, an antique and miniature book seller who’s about to retire from the business she shares with her husband in North Pomfret, says Teagle had an immense impact on the mini book world. “He had a huge collection,” she notes.

Teagle was a tireless miniature-book enthusiast. In 1968, he published a facsimile edition of Adomeit’s collected copies of The Newsletter of the LXIVmos, a periodical for miniature-book fanatics that existed only between 1927 and 1929. UVM has a copy of that, too, and Teagle’s edition features two 1-inch inclusions that were mailed out with the original journal: a doll-sized version of the newsletter’s previous issue, and a super-small chamber of commerce pamphlet promoting Seattle. Even a person with perfect vision would need a magnifying glass to read those.

Click a photo above to see the location.