Exhibit magnifies miniature books

Thursday, March 22, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:12 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

If you haven’t seen the miniature book display at MU’s Ellis Library, you may have just overlooked it. The library is exhibiting 179 miniature books including “Old King Cole,” which was the world’s smallest ever printed book from 1995 to 2002, according to the Guinness World Records.

The current record is held by “Chameleon,” published by Russian publisher Anatole Konehko, measuring 0.036 inches on all sides.

At 0.04 inches by 0.04 inches, “Old King Cole” is so small it can only be read under magnification.

A baby tooth is elephantine by comparison. In fact, the book is so tiny that it is attached to a sheet of paper barely two inches square, circled and with an arrow drawn to it.

Sixty-six of the books in the library display are part of a traveling exhibit by the not-for-profit Miniature Book Society. The remaining books are part of Ellis Library’s Special Collections section, which contains such rarities as 4,000-year-old Babylonian clay tablets and a leaf of the Gutenberg Bible.

A miniature book is any real book less than four inches in any dimension when closed, according to the Library of Congress definition. Most collectors, however, consider this too broad a definition, said Genevieve Dawson, graduate library assistant and co-curator of the exhibit.

“A diehard collector won’t touch anything over three inches,” Dawson said.

In the early days of bookmaking, scarce and expensive materials necessitated small books. Today, miniature books are mostly collectors’ items and a source of competition.

They are also a source of inquisitive looks from viewers of the exhibit.

“They’re cute; they’re so small,” MU sophomore Jin Lin said.

Books in the exhibit date from 1667 to 2006.

The Miniature Book Society traveling exhibit and the Special Collections Miniature Literature exhibit will be open through April 23 and April 30 respectively.

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