New Exhibit: Rare Books Big and Small

A new exhibit in the Maryland Room celebrates rare books that share a common physical attribute – their unique format. Specifically their shape and size! Thin and thick. Big and small. Folio. Miniature. Quadragesimo-Octavo. From the tiniest book in our collections that can be held in the palm of a hand to larger works that require two people to move, these books showcase the variety of shapes and sizes utilized by bookmakers over the centuries.

Physical attributes such as book dimensions raise compelling questions for those interested in book history. For example: Why did the printer choose such a small format? Who is the intended audience for a massive book? How does size affect the experience of reading a book? Format and size has an impact on price, accessibility, and construction of a book. Along with other physical attributes, it is an important element to examine when investigating the history and usage of a rare book.

Three exhibit cases in the Maryland Room contain oversize and miniature books dated from the 1400s to the 1900s, all part of the Rare Books collection in Special Collections and University Archives. The oldest item, featuring an impossibly small font meticulously lettered by hand, is a vellum manuscript leaf from Italy, dated 15th century. It measures roughly 4 inches high (including large page margins). On display alongside the illuminated manuscript leaf is a miniature edition of the Reliquiae sacrae Carolinae. Or, the works of that great monarch and glorious martyr King Charles the I , printed in Hague in 1657.

Among the oversize books is the exquisitely illustrated Musée Français recueil des plus beaux tableaux, statues et bas-reliefs qui existaient au Louvre avant 1815, avec l’explication des sujets et discours historiques sur la peinture, la sculpture, et la gravure, printed in Paris, 1829. Another oversize book, Nuovi scavi di Pompei, printed in Napoli in 1900, features a colorful binding design.

Also on display are several 19th century miniature children’s books of various shapes from the Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI) book collection.

An additional exhibit case located next to the welcome desk holds one of out thickest books, Adami Friderici Kirschii Abundantissimum cornu copiae linguae Latinae et Germanicae selectum, printed in Viennae Austriae in 1725. Alongside it can be found the smallest book in our collections, The Bijou Almanack, printed in London in 1844.

Visit the Maryland Room, located on the 1st floor in Hornbake Library, in January to explore the exhibit and ask yourself the question – why did they make it THAT size?

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