Miniatures in the Bolton Library

Minature book and paper case on grey background. The book and slipcase are green with gold decorations.

 by Josefin Jimenez, Bolton Conservator


Miniature book laying open on a grey background
Miniature 19th Century Holy Bible

Its early days still in terms of the conservation of the Bolton Library but with the move completed it is possible to start looking in more detail at the individual books, and to start thinking about future projects.

I recently had the pleasure of going through to survey and surface clean a small group of miniature books in the collection. In addition to the early small books, which are integrated into the library, the Bolton has a few examples of 19th century miniatures, too small to be shelved with the rest of the collection.

Generally speaking, a miniature book is any book smaller than 7.5 cm height and width, books smaller than that are sometimes referred to as micro miniatures. From the infancy of Western printing printers have experimented with stretching the limits of the format, from books large enough to cover entire tables to books small enough to fit into a locket, and with the development of nano-technology the scale has moved from merely the small to the microscopic.


Il Pastor Fido

One printer and bookseller who made their name with small, highly collectable bindings 1 was the Dutch firm Officina Elzeviriana or Elzevier, with a format referred to as duodecimo. Duodecimo, meaning 12, refers to the leaf or page being 1⁄12 of the original sheet of paper (meaning that one sheet of paper was folded down 12 times to reach the final size, normally a sheet would be folded 4 or 8 times). Their small books editions particularly focused on travel descriptions and classic literature. The company was founded by Lodewijk (Louis) Elzevier in 1599 . The Elzevier printing house was situated in Leiden but they had operations in the Hague, Utrecht and Amsterdam.


small vellum binding with plain covers
A.20.46, Il Pastor Fido


title page with black and white engraving in classical motif
A.20.46, Il Pastor Fido, Tragicomica Pastorale, title page

The above is one example of our Elzevier duodecimos, A.20.46, Il Pastor Fido by Gioivanni Battista Guarini.  It was printed 1640 in Amsterdam for Lodewijk Elzevier, possibly by Johann Bleu2. Even at this size it is illustrated and the text on the title page promises many handsome images in this new edition –“Ora in quefta nouoa impreffione di bellifsime Figure in Rame ornato.”  Although one of the smallest books on our shelves it is not a “true” miniature, measuring 6 cm x 13 cm. The binding has a plain vellum cover, and it is sewn on three split parchment supports, which are laced through the boards at the joint between board and spine. The endband is stitched in yellow thread with a single bead on a parchment core, the ends of the core overhanging and laced through the covers. The endband has lifted entirely from the spine of the book block, the lack of tie downs indicating it was made in a technique called “stuck on”, where the endband was stitched on a loose vellum strip off the book and later pasted on, rather than stitched in situ. This was a method developed to save time in the rapidly growing book trade. It also made it easier to produce beautiful and even enbands in larger quantities 3. The endpapers, paste down and flyleaf, are plain.


small book held open to show a black and white engraving of a man in a river in an idyllic landscape
A.20.46 Engraving of the river god Alfeios or Alpheus, depicted with a reed crown and flowing urn

The vellum has dried and stiffened, causing the boards to warp slightly and the opening is tight with very little flexibility in the spine, but overall the condition is fair, so when catalogued it should be available to readers.



While miniature books were clearly novelty items the form also filled a function, and many of these small books were prayer or hymnbooks, meant for individual study and perusal, the size meaning they could be easily brought along in a pocket or a bag, or even in a locket. The majority of the miniatures in the Bolton are different editions of the Bible or the New Testament. They are dated between 1820 and 1950 and ranging in size from 5 cm all the way down to 0.5 mm.

a composite image of two miniature books on grey background, one book is red the other is green with gold decorations
A short history of the Bible and New Testament and Schloss’s English Bijoux Almanac for 1842

The full titles are ironically long for such small books A short history of the Bible and New Testament with 48 neat engravings and English Bijoux Almanac for 1842 Poetically illustrated by The right hon. Mrs Norton. The almanac, 1 cm  across and 2 cm high, has a paper slip case with gold decorations on the outside and marbled papers on the inside, removing the almanac from the slip case requires fine pointed tweezers and a micro spatula.


A book the size of a finger nail

The smallest book in the Bolton is Q.2.11, which measures only 5 mm x 5 mm. It was printed in 1952 by Waldmann and Pfitzner for the Gutenberg Museum of print 4. It is the only one of these later miniature books which a Bolton shelf number, making it probably one of the most recent additions to the collection. While at Cashel, it was referred to as “the smallest book in the world”.

image of a small dark brown book with gold decorations. There is a scale under the book showing it to be 5mm
Q.2.11 The Lord’s prayer

The binding is in dark brown leather, the grain indicating a goatskin Marroquin.  There are continuous decorative gold lines framing front and back cover, four horizontal gold lines dividing the spine, and gold cross on front cover. The small binding has gilded edges on all sides. It is a single fold binding with 16 pages to the gathering and plain endpapers. The binding originally came in a case with a magnifying glass in the lid but Q.2.11 does not have the case.

Although other prints similar to this book are polyglots of the Lord’s prayer (the book is sometimes referred to as the Vaterunser) containing the first line of the prayer in Dutch, English, French, German, Spanish and Swedish the Bolton item only contains the prayer in German.

Only the first page is printed. Based on visual examination the printed page is pasted into the binding on the first page, instead of being bound with the as a part of the sections. This has created a problem, the double thickness in the first page compared to the rest of the book block causes mechanical stress and a weak point in the binding which could break with excessive, or careless, handling.

It is currently not available for readers as it has not been catalogued and will need a closer conservation assessment to evaluate the mechanical damage but when it becomes accessible, it is   recommended to be read under a strong magnifier and close invigilation.

All the miniature books were recorded, measured, and surface cleaned with vulcanized rubber sponge and brush.

Further reading:



  1. The Swedish National Library has a particularly fine Elzevier collection of 2500 Elzevier printed books and related items, bequeathed to them in 1909 by the collector Gustav Berghman  (accessed 23/11/2020), Catalogue entry: []
  2. Miranda: Il Pastor Fido, tragicomica pastorale, Folger Library (accessed 13/11/2020) []
  3. Miller J ‘1450 to 1800: The Book Changes Radically’ Books Will Speak Plain, Michigan, The Legacy Press, pp.104 (2014) []
  4. Das Vaterunser (accessed 24/11/2020) []