Miniature Books and Gargantuan Books

Miniature books are like cheap crack for many bookbinders and collectors. Once you get a taste, you want more. Miniature books are usually defined as being less than three inches in every dimension, though some accept them up to four. For me, the ultimate miniature book — which is quite likely unattainable — would be one that not only looks like its big brother, but also replicates its function.

There are 14 book dealers who specialize in them, there is a tiny book show tour, they are often displayed together, and they are collected by many major institutions. There is a a Miniature Book Society. There are special tools and equipment scaled for miniature books. There are a number of workshops on how to make miniature books. Miniature books easily cross the line into toys or jewelry. They are fun and social, and addicts seem to find catharsis in hanging with their own, admitting their guilty pleasure.

Gargantuan books often stand alone.  Most of us only make one. And swear not to do it again. If you make one, you are not only faced with the expense of materials, difficulty in finding equipment large enough to bind it, but then have to store and exhibit it somewhere. They are proud and boastful; I am the largest, the tallest, heaviest, etc… . Many rare book collections have one special display case for their Audubon, and keep it on more or less permanent exhibition. I’ve never heard of anyone who collects them, or a class devoted to making them.

There isn’t even a standard definition of what a size they should be. So I’ll propose a gargantuan book exceeds 33 inches in any dimension, just slightly larger than the longest side of normal handmade paper.

Many gargantuan books are made with non-traditional materials; some may not have pages, so it is not inappropiate to question if they should be considered books at all. They might be blooks or book shaped objects. Having a sequence of pages, or somehow referencing the idea of a sequence, is a critical difference in my opinion. Of course, it can be argue that any book contains the two basic seeds of a narrative, a before and an after. Eric Kwakkel considers a “real” big book one that is meant to be read, not created as a gimmick. Quality rarely enters the discourse: it’s all about quantity.

Wikipedia and the Guinness World Book of Records offer different accounts of what is the current largest book in the world is; significantly, both are religious texts. Symbolic monuments designed to impress us with their authority and power.

Below are a few gargantuan books I find noteable.


Appearing around 39:12, and again around 1:46:09 is a very well crafted book. It appears to be tooled in gold and blind, with deep type impressions and indentations around the bands on the (leather?) spine. Even the decorative paper sides realistically match the scale of the book. Sensitivity to the scale of details is where the wow factor comes in, both in mini and big books. Thanks to Tom Conroy for bringing this to my attention. The entire opera is spectacular, BTW.


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Photo: Benno Haglleitner. Source:

Exhibit two is the The Opera on the Lake of Bregenz. Yes, those are lilliputian actors standing on the open book. The 1999-2000 performance of Verdi’s Masked Ball had the entire stage made up of a book, held open by Death. Thanks to John Townsend for this reference.


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Slightly more prosaic is this edition titled Butan: A Visual Odyssey Across the Himalayan Kingdom, which weighs in at 133 lbs, and open is 7 feet by 5 feet.  There are a few copies for sale on ABE books in the $300- $500 range, which must make it one of the cheapest books per square inch available. I imagine the materials alone would have cost more. There is a very nice write-up about it on the University of Washington’s Special Collections site.


The making of this book was well documented a few years ago.  It took a crane to install it into the exhibition space. A heroic production.

I wrote about a 16 foot high book from 1918 bound in cowhide a couple of years ago, which was used to advertise War Bonds.

Other favorites?


Wood Book With Drawer



I picked this up at a second hand antique store in upstate NY. The bottom of the drawer says “FLEMISH / 725 / ..ART..” Perhaps it is tourist art? I’m not sure what the title “BANDS” refers to, or why there is a well executed monk on the front cover. The foreedge has a nice curve to it, and the burned and incised decoration covers the back cover as well. Looks like it might hold cigarettes? It is an odd little thing.

A Wooden Book

I recently inherited this wooden book shaped object, which belonged to my 5th Great- Uncle, Samuel Brillhart.  It has become my most treasured possession, representing a link between my current interests (the 18th Century, books and wood) with those of my ancestors.  This book is not a true xylotheque, which would also possibly contain seeds, leaves and other samples of the tree itself, instead it is a model or representation of a book. I think the wood is mahogany, which was being exported from Central America as early as the 17th. C.  The date, 1746, is also the date that Samuel built a church in York Co., PA.  I have a photograph of a drawing of the church, which looks to be a dovetailed log cabin style structure with two chimneys. Possibly the wood came from an alter in the Church?

I’m unclear how the writing was made, it appears to be burned onto the surface of the wood, instead of an ink that would sit more on the surface.   It measures 133 x 97 x 35 mm, giving it a more horizontal presence than many 18th C. books, and weighs 254 g. Under his name on the upper cover, there are three lines of writing, “The first/  xxxxxx   church/ York Co Pa”.

The wood is very smooth from handling, and the tear out on the head and tail suggest it was carved by a somewhat dull chisel.  The spine and foreedge are basically flat. The boards are fairly thick, around 5mm and the squares vary from 3-5mm. The top edge of the boards has parallel handsaw marks, and the tail edge is worn smooth.  I especially like the grain on the foreedge, which give a visual effect of edges of a page.

Why would my Uncle make this?  Why put the date on the spine and name on the cover? Most books sit quietly closed 99.99% of their lives: was this made to be a reminder to open and read “the book”? Is it a reminder of the power and appeal of the physical presence of the book, even a non functioning one?  What questions does it ask about the presumed function of “real” books?



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