Behold, the Tiniest of Books

The first miniature books to enter Patricia J. Pistner’s life have been ones she made with paper and a staple gun for her childhood dollhouse a few years in the past. She positioned them on tiny doll tables in tiny doll rooms and skim them aloud to tiny dolls. “A house has to have books in it,” she stated not too long ago.

There could be extra dollhouses — ones she and her husband constructed and furnished for his granddaughters, and the now well-known Pistner House, a five-and-a-half-foot-high marvel of 18th-century French structure and design that options perfectly-scaled miniature reproductions, remodeled half a decade, by 65 artists and artisans. That led to a brand new obsession. “I made a life-changing decision to put in a library,” Pistner stated, “and instead of using faux books I decided I would have real books.”

Fast ahead a quantity of years — and a quantity of programs on antiquarian books, miniature books and the historical past of bookbinding — to now, when Pistner (pronounced PEIST-ner) has turn out to be one of the nation’s foremost collectors of miniature books. About 950 books from her assortment are at present on show at the Grolier Club, the nation’s oldest society of bibliophiles, in Manhattan. (The exhibition, curated by Pistner and Jan Storm van Leeuwen, closes on May 19.)

Pistner, 69, sees her tiny books not simply as intricately designed, in a different way scaled variations of issues she loves already, but in addition as necessary artifacts in the improvement of books by means of historical past, reflecting “the finest examples of various binding styles,” she stated.

Most of the books in the exhibit are about one to 3 inches excessive and would nestle simply in the palm of your hand. Some are the measurement of a thumbnail. (There are additionally a number of ultra-micro-miniatures, with no dimension higher than 1 / 4 of an inch; one, shockingly, seems to be about as huge as the interval on this sentence.) The oldest is a cuneiform pill from about 2300 B.C.; the latest was printed final yr. They are valued in the tens or a whole bunch or hundreds of ; the rarest of miniature antiquarian books can promote in the six and even seven figures.

There are spiritual books and historical past books; almanacs and devotionals; image books and novels and poetry; printed books and handmade manuscripts; collections of Shakespeare and books about the alphabet. Many are elaborately and extravagantly sure, with covers inlaid in supplies together with gold and silver and jewels. Some have been made as beautiful little objects; others have been meant to be learn regularly, tucked inside a pocket and carried near their house owners’ hearts for ease of session. Some are feats of excessive miniaturization. A number of are tokens of love.

One of two tiny eight-sided Qur’ans in the exhibit, this is a complete transcription of the Islamic holy book, probably from the 19th century. It measures in at a mere 50 x 45 x 12 mm and has fetching gold pigment on its cover and elaborate floral designs inside. “A miniature Qur’an permits a protective intimacy with the revealed word of God through wearing, carrying or close placement,” Pistner writes in the exhibit’s catalog. In the Ottoman era, mini Qur’ans were also placed on banners carried into battle.

This very small 2,300-odd-years-old solid-black object is replete with writing, much of it consisting of apparently indecipherable magic spells. But around its sides is a four-line invocation calling on the creator of the universe “to give strength, health and salvation and to protect the wearer from evil and harmful spirits.” Such objects were actually amulets often worn or carried by their owners during the Roman Empire.

The exhibit includes many weird and unusual types of books, including a single sheet of 258 x 7 mm paper on which the Lord’s Prayer has been micrographically inscribed in black ink; a 51 mm tall Ethiopic manuscript from the 19th or early 20th century, written on wooden boards and stored in a two-piece leather case; and a heart-shaped 19th-century possibly-French book that opens into an elaborate puzzle of poetry and prayers. The manuscript above was a diary written, in contravention of Navy rules, by a sailor aboard the transport ship Henry R. Mallory during World War I. (He cunningly concealed it in a little brass nut that may have been part of the ship’s pipe system.) The diary, on a single scrolling sheet of paper, chronicles meetings with enemy submarines, ones that fire at the Mallory and ones that the Mallory fires upon; ones that sink, and ones that get away.

This is a very rare example of the phenomenon known as triple dos-a-dos binding, meaning that three bindings are connected to each other by shared inner covers. In this case, two separate books were bound together by means of various complicated maneuvers in late 18th-century France, with the two parts of the first book, the “Etrennes,” split apart and all of the Almanac concealed inside. When you pick it up, you find it opens like an accordion, in a sense, with one of the books facing toward you and the other facing away.

In 2016, a 9-year-old boy, Joseph Gama met Pistner by chance at a meeting of the Miniature Book Society in Texas (he was there with his father). Charmed by his wonder and enthusiasm, Pistner presented Joseph with a miniature book he had particularly admired. “Things I Like,” a compendium of his favorite things, with illustrations by the author, was his thank-you gift to her a little while later. The things Joseph likes, it turns out, include trucks; bicycles; rockets; books; his dog, Astro; and Pistner herself, represented by the words “And You” on the last page of the book, along with instructions to smell the heart he has drawn with a strawberry-scented crayon.

The book here is presented inside a hollowed-out walnut with a golden inner edge, alongside a thimble and other sewing implements. Such so-called sewing nécessaires were in circulation in France in the 18th and 19th centuries, but it is very rare to find one that contains a teeny book as well the more obvious practical tools. “Valeur et Constance,” or “Value and Constancy,” is a Parisian almanac for the year 1823, and it slips out of its slot and can be read (albeit with some physical maneuvering) even as its owner sews.

This 14th-century book from Damascus contains two complete homilies and a partial one relating to the founding of principles of the Samaritans, the longest-lived religious sect in Jewish history. Written mostly in Arabic with a few passages in Paleo-Hebrew, the book also contains a biblical account of the creation of the world, a great many calls to repent, and various prayers for, among other things, the well-being of the sultan. It is fraying at the edges but its words, in ink on parchment, are still perfectly clear.

The cover of this cunning little almanac is made with, among other things, bloodstone, glass, gold, woven textile and braids of hair, along with the initials A.C. Two gold frames, on the front and the back covers, show a snake biting its tale in an endless circle symbolizing eternity. It is believed such books were given by a person to his or her beloved as a pledge of endless devotion.

How tiny is this volume? So tiny that it is known as an ultra-micro book, with dimensions of 0.75 x 0.75x 1 mm. So tiny that when you look at it in its display case, what you see is an almost imperceptible black speck in the middle of a tiny circle inside another, slightly larger circle. (The version above is enlarged.) The book, one of 245 copies printed in Tokyo in 2012, contains printed letters that are .01 mm wide as well as ridiculously small illustrations of 12 types of Japanese flowers found in the four seasons of the year. To help put it in perspective, it is displayed with an enlarged version of the book, with a (relatively) gigantic 13 x 13 mm binding, and an 8x magnifying glass.

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