Not A Small World For Miniature Books

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Smallest known book, a copy of the "The Lord's Prayer", displayed by Christie's Auction House staff
AP

They're not the kind of books you'd take out of the library. You won't find them in a local bookstore, either. In fact, some of them are almost impossible to find at all, explains CBS Sunday Morning anchor Charles Osgood.

However, the world of miniature books — miniscule copies of actual publications, some as tiny as a quarter of an inch — is not a small one.

"I sat next to a woman, and I said I had about 3,000 (miniature) books — expecting her to be completely floored," said Neale Albert, a collector and former president of the Miniature Books Society. "And then I said, to be polite, 'How many books do you have?' and she said, 'I don't know, 18-19,000.' "

Betty Cape, of Indiana University's Lily Library, which boasts a collection of 16,000 volumes, says there are various reasons collectors like Albert search far and wide to find the tiny tomes.

"Some people, it's curiosity … other people are book artists," Cape said. "Other people are interested in the history of the book — and this is one facet of the history of the book."

The idea of miniature publications has been around since the time of the ancient Babylonians who used to use tiny cuneiform tablets for legal documents and receipts. By the 19th century, publishers were producing miniature children's books that could fit on miniature bookshelves, and in 1832, while it was still illegal to disseminate information about birth control, Charles Knowlton anonymously published his scandalous "Fruits of Philosophy" in miniature form, so it could be hidden easily.

For Albert, a former corporate lawyer, miniature books were a natural progression from his first love — historic doll houses. He began collecting miniature books to fill the tiny bookshelves in his miniature library, and became hooked.

His collection, which specializes in art books with specialty bindings, even boasts an edition of Anton Chekov's "The Chameleon" — which, at less than 1 square millimeter, the Guinness Book of Records calls the world's smallest book.

"It's a real book, with real pages," he said. "It's made exactly the way a full-size book would be made."

It's this detail that makes the books deceiving.

"Most of these books, if you just saw a photograph of it, you'd have no idea it was a miniature book," Albert said. "You'd have to be told, or see it in the context of a hand to be able to tell."