Thursday, June 20, 2013

Featured Artifact: Miniature Book

A Letter from Galileo to Madame Christina di Lorena, 1896, MORR 9392

One of Morristown's tiniest treasures is an 1896 printing of A Letter from Galileo to Madame Christina di Lorena (original published in 1636) that measures just under one inch. This diminutive work exhibits fine craftsmanship and attention to detail; it measures 3/4 by 1/2 inch, features 2-point type, decorative endpapers, hand-sewn gatherings, and a gold embossed cover. Expert Ruth Adomeit once remarked that this edition was the "greatest marvel of book making in the history of miniature books (Bromer/Edison, 117).

The present definition of a miniature book is any book that is three inches or less in height and width. A book of this size is classified as a "microminature." According to Anne Bromer and Julian Edison's book on miniature books, the 1896 edition featured above created quite a sensation and is now considered "the most famous miniature book in the world" (114). Edison notes that "The Galileo is still today, at 206 pages, the smallest complete book printed entirely from movable type" (Edison, correspondence). This work features an impressive example of microscopic type, a 2-point type called "fly's eye" type.

MORR 9392 shown here for scale.

Miniature Books

The physical components of miniature books are the same as standard-sized books; paper, type, ink, and binding. According to the Lilly Library, miniature books were "popular because they were easily carried or concealed" (Lilly online exhibition). Miniature books have been published on numerous topics over the centuries and the art of miniature book publishing continues today. "The earliest piece of block printing to which an accurate date can be ascribed--a Japanese wooden block print from about 770 AD--is a miniature scroll and part of the Lilly Library's collections" (Lilly). In 2000, Toppan Printing Company, Tokyo, printed a book that measures .95 mm x .95 mm (Bromer/Edison, 120).

Title page, MORR 9392

Printing and Tiny Type

Microscopic type was first perfected by engineer and engraver, Henri Didot, in the early 1800s. According to Bromer and Edison, the 2.5-point type he cast was so small that he had to invent the "polyamatype" mold because it could produce one hundred letters at a time (47). The 2-point "fly's eye" type was developed by two brothers, the Salmin brothers, from Padua, Italy, in the 1870s. The first use of this type was the 1878 edition of Dante's La Divina Commedia. This type was used again for A Letter from Galileo to Madame Christina di Lorena (MORR 9392). Samuel Avery noted that the work involved in cutting this type "caused injury to the eyesight of both the compositor and corrector. It took one month to print thirty pages, and new types were necessary for every new form" (Bromer/Edison, 47).

2-point type* may not be a challenge for today's laser printers, but in 1878 books were still primarily printed using movable type. Although factory-made type was available by the late nineteenth-century, speciality types were likely still made by hand. Type-founding was an involved process. First, each individual punch was engraved by hand to form a letter or character. Next, the engraved punch was used to strike another piece of metal to create a matrix (an imprint of the letter). Matrices were used with a mold to cast a piece of type in stronger metal (usually a lead, tin alloy). Finished letters were placed on a form manually by a compositor, a rather tedious job (Glaister, 402).

*For reference, 1-point is approximately 0.35136 mm or 0.01383 inch.

Wikicommons image of movable type on compositor's stick,
photo credit Willi Heidelbach

The anatomy of type, from the Typographic Desk Reference, 84.
 Image of another edition of Galileo, atop unfolded sheets of the same text.
This example demonstrates how the pages of a printed book appear before they are folded,
bound, and cut. This image courtesy of Julian Edison, co-author of Miniature Books.

Example printing imposition, Oxford Companion to the Book, 981.

Book Binding

According to The Oxford Companion to the Book, most nineteenth-century Western books were casebound (see diagrams below for visual). Our volume of Galileo's letter seems to have been first hand stitched (sewn) and then glued (possibly for repair), at a later date.
Example casebound binding, from Oxford Companion to the Book, 148.
Example pre-mechanization binding, from Oxford Companion to the Book, 148.

A Letter from Galileo to Madame Christina di Lorena
(Galileo a Madama Cristina de Lerena)

This text consists of a letter Galileo wrote to Christina of Sweden, the daughter of King Gustav II, in 1615. "Galileo pleaded for harmony between religion and science in the letter, a plea that offended the Catholic Church" (Bromer/Edison, 114). The Pope reprimanded him, but he continued to defend the Copernican system. Galileo was later found guilty of heresy and was sentenced to house arrest for the remainder of his life (114).

Portrait of Galileo Galilei, 1636, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, WikiCommons

 Spine, MORR 9392

Works Cited

Bromer, Anne C. and Julian I. Edison. Miniature Books: 4000 Years of Tiny Treasures. New York: Abrams. 2007.

Edison, Julian. Personal Correspondence. June 22, 2013.

Glaister, Geoffrey Ashall. Encyclopedia of the Book. 2nd Ed. New Castle: Oak Knoll Press. 2001.

Rosendorf, Theodore. The Typographic Desk Reference. New Castle: Oak Knoll Press. 2009.

Suarez, Michael F. and H.R. Woudhuysen. The Oxford Companion to the Book. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2010.

"4000 Years of Miniature Books." Lilly Library Online Exhibit. Indiana University. Retrieved 20, June 2013.

*This blog entry by Archives Technician and Museum Educator, Sarah Minegar.

1 comment:

  1. How interesting!
    I was able to see this tiny book while visiting the museum at Morristown in 2010. It's nice to see the history.