November 14, 2007

Civil War "Miniature Book"

I read online where the University of Tennessee’s Special Collections Library has acquired a very rare Civil War “miniature book” for its collections. Entitled “Orphan Willie” and published in 1862, this 64-page book tells the story of a young boy who runs away to join the Union army. For those who may not be aware, a miniature book is a very small book, roughly sized at 3 by 2 inches, but certainly no larger than 3 inches in height, width or thickness. Some are even smaller as the image indicates. They were quite popular in the last few decades of the 19th century because they were portable and easy to conceal. Such is the case with this Civil War title for its contents could have made it an item subject to confiscation. A person could carry many of these books in a small case when travelling.

Many are bound in fine leather, gilt in gold and contain excellent examples of woodcuts, etchings and watermarks. Another example of bookmaking as art. More popular topics at that time were dictionaries, language translators, religious stories and readings and occasionally tourist guides. Many are now collector's items with prices ranging from a few hundred to many thousands of dollars. Some of the oldest books are actually miniature clay tablets from Mesopotamia and recorded business and legal transactions. The Indiana University Lilly Library has an online exhibition of these types of books as does the Miniature Book Society.

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