Is this the world's smallest book? Old title-holder resurfaces at National Library Scotland

By Culture24 Reporter | 18 September 2013

At 0.9mm in height, Old King Cole, published in Paisley in 1985, is smaller than a grain of rice and the tiniest book in the National Library of Scotland’s collections.

A photo of a tiny book next to a penny
© National Library of Scotland
It once held the record for the world’s smallest book. That honour now goes to a book in Japan – measuring 0.74 by 0.75mm – but there are 90 other magnifying glass masterpieces here.

“Many are works of art or miracles of technology and are highly collectable,” says curator James Mitchell, discussing the immense skill needed to recreate the features of ordinary-sized books in such minute detail.

“Scotland has made a worldwide contribution to this highly skilled form of publishing. There are many delightful examples in this celebration.

“We hope visitors to the library will enjoy seeing them.”

A photo of a tiny book next to a penny on a table
Poems of Robert Burns - the last book produced by the Gleniffer Press, in 2007 - contains 67 pages© National Library of Scotland
Dimensions of less than 7.5cm – or three inches – constitute the definition of a miniature book.

The first on record was printed in 1475 and an unusually modest tome of the bible spans only 18mm, although production flourished during the past two centuries, with the Glasgow firm David Bryce and Son becoming prolific contributors between 1870 and World War I.

Bryce quickly realised small books scored better sales figures. A full-size edition of the works of Robert Burns flogged a mere 5,000 copies across three years, but a version in two miniature forms sold more than 100,000 books, beginning a trajectory that would see Bryce become a wealthy businessman by publishing more than 40 miniscule titles.

The hobby private Gleniffer Press, launched by Helen and Ian Macdonald in 1967, furthered the tradition to widespread acclaim until 2007, producing 57 different titles.

  • Miniature Books in Scotland runs until November 23 2013.
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