The earliest miniature books were produced primarily for personal convenience, to be carried in waistcoat pockets and ladies' reticules. As their popularity increased, the variety of texts expanded and, by the eighteenth century, included titles for children. The tiny volumes became exercises in printing and binding techniques.
Early American miniature books mirror their larger contemporaries: the texts are moral, the bindings plain. The majority of the volumes in the American Antiquarian Society's collection contain works of a religious nature. Of the 156 American editions of thumb Bibles cited by Ruth Elizabeth Adomeit in her Three Centuries of Thumb Bibles: A Checklist (New York and London, 1980), the Society holds approximately one hundred examples, dating from 1765. The early examples of these abridgements of the Bible for children are in verse and, like the New England Primer, many of the same verses were included year after year. Similarly, the patriotic gesture was made in 1798 when Lower and Jones of Philadelphia dedicated their version "to his excellency G. Washington, President of the United States of America." A considerable number of the copies are worn and incomplete, mute testimony to hard use. Several of the volumes came with the bequest of d'Alté A. Welch, and Miss Adomeit added to the collection before her death. Her generous endowed acquisition fund continues to support the purchase of miniature books and pre-1851 children's books.
All was not completely serious in the world of American miniature books. Songsters, hymnals, almanacs, and histories vied with entertaining and instructive texts. Tom Thumb's Play-Book, with Thomas's own inscription, "Printed by I. Thomas when A "prentice in 1764, for A. Barclay," is one of the Society's most valued miniatures. An educational title is The Book of Nouns, published in Philadelphia by J. Johnson in 1802. London in Miniature: with 47 Engravings of Its Public Buildings and Antiquities and Costumes of Different Nations, in Miniature were published in New York by Samuel Wood and Sons in 1816 and 1817. The familiar rhyme of The Adventures of Mother Hubbard and Her Dog was published in Albany in 1822 by G. J. Loomis & Co. and is found here in the original blue wraps.
Gen. Cass' Letter to the Harbor and River Convention (Chicago, 1848) and Life and Services of Gen. Pierce (Concord, 1852) are two gems of political satire. Miniatures produced by Frank Ellison of Waltham include An Account of a Trip to the Sea Shore Made in the Year 1857, and A Journal of a Trip Down East, Aug. 1858, a rare sporting miniature. Ellison kept a daily record of the weather for 1858-60 and printed miniature almanac pamphlets of meteorological tables and notes for the years. All of these may be seen at AAS.
A small group of twentieth-century miniatures is included in the collection. These consist of reprints of earlier titles and new titles, where the text is of historical interest. Among these are fourteen volumes produced by the late Achille J. St. Onge of Worcester.
There are approximately 350 miniature books in the Society's collection. They are shelved in chronological sequence by date of publication. Over the years, the size for inclusion in the collection has been arbitrary, with some volumes measuring over 3 1/2 inches in height. Current policy is to limit the height of most new additions to 75mm, or slightly less than 3 inches.
While there is no subject access to miniature books, there is a checklist of the entire collection, which is in two sections--an alphabetical listing by title and a chronological listing by date of publication. d'Alté A. Welch's A Bibliography of American Children's Books Printed Prior to 1821 (Worcester, 1972), contains some miniature editions and is annotated for AAS holdings, as is the Adomeit bibliography of thumb Bibles. A new publication, Robert C. Bradbury's Antique United States Miniature Books, 1690-1900 ( No. Clarendon, Vt., 2001) was compiled from the books in collections of the Society and of the Lilly Library.
There are also some miniature books in the Childrens' Literature and Almanacs collections.
- Carolyn A. Allen, former Acquisitions Administrator; revised by S.J. Wolfe, Senior Cataloger