Today I took five of the kids that I work with to the San Diego Central Library to visit their Special Collections room, where they have rare dictionaries on display. The three ladies that work there seemed so excited that we had come in, they all surrounded us and led us carefully around the small room to each of the glass cases. Old books really do fascinate me. It fascinates me that you have to keep them in secure cases with the light and humidity regulated, and that when you pull the books out to look at them the librarians give you special gloves and hover over you, ready to risk their lives for the book you are inspecting. It was incredible to me, the number of items they had on display in such a small space: A replica of the Rosetta Stone, the first dictionaries by Johnson and Webster, examples of writings on papyrus, reeds, copper, wood, and even little soft circular clay pieces that children held in the palm of their hands to practice writing, which they could then wipe off and start over again on--similar to a slate. Of particular interest to me were the books with intricate calligraphy on vellum, since I've been practicing calligraphy so much lately.
The crowning jewel of the whole trip, however, was when we saw the Smallest Book in the World. The ladies led us up to a glass case with many different miniature books inside, and told us how it was very fashionable back in the 1600s-1800s for people to carry around miniature books. They would carry the books in their pockets or next to their heart. Anne Boleyn supposedly even carried a little miniature copy of the Bible with her as she made her way to her death by beheading. In the middle of the glass case was a small box that looked something like a jewelry box. And there it was, the Smallest Book in the World. I capitalize it because I think it is so fun to say. The book is so tiny that there is a little magnifying glass hovering over it, in order for you to see it, and still it doesn't appear any bigger than a pin-head. Here is the description given by Die Gestalten Verlag, a visual design company:
"With its economical measurements of 2.4 x 2.6 mm, the Smallest Book in the World is indeed what it claims to be. A treasure for all bibliophiles, the tiny leather-bound volume is a glorious example of loving obsessive precision, an exhaustive exploration of the medium's potential. Manufactured in the traditional book city Leipzig, no other published edition comes close in size and execution. Replete with an exclusive alphabet by renowned German typographer Joshua Reichert the delicate but by no means fragile collector's item also contains a magnifying glass - for those brave enough to turn the pages, that is!"