Judge This Book By Its Cover
VARIANT FORMS: also bib·li·o·phil (-fl) or bib·li·oph·i·list (bbl-f-lst)
NOUN: 1. A lover of books. 2. A collector of books.
OTHER FORMS: bibli·ophi·lism NOUN
“A bibliophile of little means is likely to suffer often. Books dont slip from his hands but fly past him through the air, high as birds, high as prices.”
Pablo Neruda (19041973), Chilean poet.
As many bibliophiles know, Die-Gestalten Verlag, German publisher extraordinaire, creates marvelous books. With their stunning style and remarkable substance, these books are quickly becoming the maximum indulgence for any connoisseur of printed matter. Few would argue that most of Die-Gestalten’s books are destined to become modern classics in graphic art. While some collectors feel a quickening pulse when they hold a rare 18th century signed first edition, one can’t help but suspect books such as Temporary Spaces or Rinzen Presents RMX Extended Play will cause a 21st century bibliophile’s heart rate to climb to unacceptable levels. Books like 72-dpi Anime with the interactive DVD represent the new generation of collectible volumes. Each book offered by Die-Gestalten stretches the boundaries of modern printing technology with their unique covers, lush graphics, and unconventional designs.
And now, there’s a new volume to add to the Die-Gestalten bookshelf. In an age where information is delivered in gigabytes on silicon chips the size of pinheads and via sound bytes of the news, minuteness is an irresistible challenge, even in the world of book publishing. The current Guinness Book of World Records lists a 0.04 inch-wide edition of “Old King Cole” as the record holder.
Make room for Die-Gestalten’s appropriately titled The World’s Smallest Book, perhaps one of the finest publishing accomplishments since cuneiform tables. Edited by German typographer Josua Reichert, it measures 2.4 mm by 2.9mm - and just how large is 2.4 mm by 2.9 mm, you ask? The size of a match head. I kid you not. Manufactured in Leipzig (the “book city”), no other published edition can touch this one in stature. The leather-bound volume comes in a mahogany box with a magnifying glass. The pages are actually readable.
In the publishing world, small means high dollar collectibles for bibliophiles. But miniature books are nothing new. In Middle Eastern civilizations, the earliest known small books were produced as cuneiform tablets, printed as legal documents and receipts. Papyrus, paper, and parchment, a natural evolution from the stone tablets, proceeded in the form of codex books and miniature manuscripts. Eventually, in Western Europe, devotional literature was produced in miniature form so it could be carried by its owners (most liturgical books, at that time, were huge and meant to be read by more than one person at a time.)
By the late 18th century, children’s books, slightly larger than miniature, were all the rage in Western Europe. Bibliographic historians believe the content of these children’s books represent what parents of the nineteenth century wanted their children to be familiar with—kings, queens, and natural history. But small just gets smaller, and smaller gets more popular. Before the century truly got underway, pop culture began to play an important role in miniature book production. Western European society began to embrace the idea of educating children early. The middle class, becoming increasingly literate, demanded more for their children from publishers. Fables, fairly tales, and a new idea—the gift book—influenced publishers as they began to reprint classical literature in miniature.
The small craze traveled to America where publishers also competed for the ultimate minuteness. Lilly Library at Indiana University has a miniature book display and an online catalogue of both the books and the history of small book production. To quote the website: Robert C. Bradbury states in Twentieth Century United States Miniature Books that
“The renaissance of miniature book publishing and collecting began in 1960 when Achille J. St. Onge published the first issue of the Miniature Book Collector.” While some might question so specific a beginning of a trend, the general import is undoubtable. Bradbury further documents and enumerates what is beyond question the most important development in the field of miniature books in the second half of the twentieth century. The significance of small presses, fine presses, and the producers of artists’ books has grown to the point that it is the most important feature of miniature book publishing at the beginning of the twenty-first century. While commercial miniatures are still in production throughout the world, carefully designed small press books, often printed from hand-set type, but also from photographically produced plates or computer graphics programs, are the center of attention. These are often hand bound by the publishers, and in some cases are printed on paper also made by the same craftspeople. This approach to miniature books views them as uniquely crafted artifacts to be read and enjoyed for their texts, and for the skills which went into their production.”
Miniature books are pieces of art—meant to be enjoyed for their uniqueness, the complexity of their construction, and the beauty of their design.
But what about substance? Ah, the storyline. The plot of The World’s Smallest Book? A time-worn cliche’ where X meets Y, then Z enters and everything changes. It’s as simple as ABC. Actually, it is ABC. Each page of the book contains one letter of the alphabet. In miniature books, the medium is certainly the message.
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