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.Continue reading