Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Back from the 'Zoo (and a Recent Acquisition)

I had a long weekend at the International Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo, where I got to feel like both an academic and a bookseller, all at the same time. I saw old friends and met some new folks, and made a few sales. It was just what I wanted from the Congress.

Tiny little leather-bound book. 
Oh, and I want to the dance, and I did not dance.

Arriving back home, I had no fewer than four packages in the mail waiting for me. With a little concentration, I finally remembered what three of them were before I opened them up, but one didn't ring any bells. A week out of the house, and I can't remember what I spent money on a week before.

Rather than a package shaped like a book, this was a small cardboard box, the kind of thing I'd ship a glass toothpick holder or salt shaker in. I had no idea what was in it.

When I opened it up, of course, I found a tiny little book. 

I measure the height of this book to be 3 9/16". According to the website of the Miniature Book Society, American collectors would find this too large to be counted as a true miniature book, although European collectors, apparently, would consider it a miniature: their defining size appears to be ten centimeters.

Regardless, it is, I am certain, the smallest manuscript I've had the pleasure to own.

Inside, there are 252 numbered paper pages, although the scribe seems to have finished his or her work on page 203. It seems to be a book of private devotion, written entirely in Latin, and probably deriving from Bohemia, as the reference on the first page to "S Johannes Nepomuc[eni]" about half way down the page perhaps suggests. 

Most written pages seem to have between 17 and 19 lines of writing; that's about 6 lines of writing per inch. Even so, the script is generally clear and legible, and the book as a whole probably dates from sometime in the 1700s. 

A book this size, it seems to me, is a very personal item: although neither the scribe nor owner (if they weren't in fact the same person) seems to have left a name for us to find, but the contents and the size together, somehow, give us a sense of a real human being. 

Miniature it may be, but of greater importance or significance, it somehow seems, for all that: it feels like it tells us something about its early life in a way a larger size book would not. 

What a delight it was to pull such a little gem from a box when I came back home.

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