Antiques and Collecting: Mini Masterpieces with Children in Mind; Small Can Be Very Beautiful, Discovers Richard Edmonds, When It Comes to Collections of Miniature Books

Article excerpt

Byline: Richard Edmonds\

Certain of these tiny masterpieces which could compress so much into so little arrived complete with a magnifying glass without which they could not be read.

Miniature books, a favourite with dealers who can pack many into a shoebox to bring to the salerooms

There was never any shortage of toys and games for the children of Tudor and Stuart England. As we noticed in last week's column there are many references in paintings of children to hoops, tops and rattles, balls and kites. Children made numerous toys themselves at times when these things could not be purchased for them.

But schooling and education were limited to the few. Most children were sent out to work while very young and reading was not generally encouraged unless the subject was of a religious nature.

In the 19th Century The Arthurian legends were seen as acceptable reading matter along with Fox's Book of Martyrs and Aesop's book of Fables. In later years Beatrix Potter's tales were very popular with children and so were the stories of characters like Babar or Rupert the Bear.

But it was when the publishers themselves saw a profitable market in books for children, some of which were printed in miniature, that the scene changed.

From 1770 to 1840 John Newbery, Elizabeth Newbery, John Harris and John Marshall produced many of the best books which collectors search for today and for which they pay hefty prices.

These 18th and early 19th century books were always much smaller in format than today's children's books. Originally, the boards of the book were covered with Dutch floral paper - an embossed binding generally in green and gold or orange. Most often the books appear in printed wrappers, occasionally in boards with an inexpensive leather known as roan covering the spine - which of course today is more often than not coming apart. But the miniature book was always an exciting thing for a child to be given - although presumably the adults needed glasses in order to read the type.

Mary Chapman, who is a bookseller and who wrote on these things last year in Antique Collecting, notes that a miniature book can be defined in terms of its volume, height and width which does not exceed three inches. That, at least, is what the dealers look for.

The attractions and advantages of this particular area of book collecting are not hard to work out. …