THE BRITISH LIBRARY

American Collections blog

3 posts categorized "Religion"

09 August 2017

Miniature books: a Lilliputian world - Part one

Add comment

Since when and why

In a little time I felt something alive moving on my left leg, which advancing gently forward over my breast, came almost up to my chin; when, bending my eyes downwards as much as I could, I perceived it to be a human creature not six inches high, with a bow and arrow in his hands, and quiver at his back… [1].


A particular from the book: Gulliver’s travels, illustrated by Rex Whistler (London: The Cresset Press, 1930), vol. I, p. 15 [Shelfmark: C.100.I.14]

 

I like to report on my first encounter with the miniature books world as a moment that was like waking up from my ordinary library day of submersion in beautiful American artists’ books, and discovering an exciting alternative reality made of miniature items. I perceived that these objects almost animated, approximately three or four inches tall, kindly throwing darts of curiosity at me with their bows loaded with charm. I immediately fell enamoured with them, and it did not take long before my desk was busy with library materials on miniature books.

“For those of us who have been bitten by this particular bug” [2] there is nothing left to follow the appeal of the beauty offered by the small miniature art masterpieces.


Some of the books consulted for my research, and on top the little: A dog’s tail, printed by Anicka and Gaylor Schanilec, (United States: Midnight Paper Sales & Flaming Cat Press, 2004), measures 1 1/2” x 1 1/8” [on cataloguing process]

 

Wondering ‘why’, and ‘since when’ have been the guideline of my innocent journey into the history of the little items. One of the first things I learned is that as old as the discovering of the written world is its counterpart in the miniature form. Secondly, I acknowledged that this world is regulated by laws, and for that, you will define as miniature books only those which respect the standard of being possibly even less than three inches but no more than four, and almost as it was heresy, five.

Defecting from the established rules in fact, an item of four inches or little more would only be a pain for a purist, and a joke for all artisans involved, printers, binders, papermakers, illustrators, illuminators, and engravers who would give all the very best of their art under more challenging and extreme circumstances from one to three inches.

It is said that to reach the completion of the 1878 Dante’s Divina Commedia edition (Padua: Salmin), also known as the “Dantino”, many artisans were injured: the necessary operations of preparing and cutting the types caused a serious injury “to the eyesight of both the compositor and corrector. It took one month to print thirty pages, and new types were necessary for every new form.”. Around the 70’s of the 19th century, two brothers from Padua, Italy, together with a small team of professionals such as casters, compositors, and correctors, developed an unprecedented minuscule typefaces, which they named carattere a occhio di mosca (fly’s eye type), and that was firstly used for the micro Dante’s masterpiece. The measures of the book are 1 1/4” x 1 3/4”, and it is only readable trough a magnifying glass [3].






The book of the world, by Irene Chan (Baltimore?: Ch'An Press, 2000), measures 1” x 1” (box). The text of this miniature book consists of an excerpt of John Dalton's 1808 Atomic Theory. The illustration is an image of Dalton's elastic fluids drawing that looks like the eye [on cataloguing process]

 

Indulging in more technical details, you would call a miniature book a 64mo. A single leaf of paper folded 64 times, originally printed with 64 pages on each side of it, and then scrupulously folded in order to bring up the correct sequence of the pages. The size of the pages are obviously determined by the size of the original master sheet, but a 64mo would inevitable be around 3 to 5 inches [4].

The purpose of creating, producing and collecting miniature books is two-fold: firstly, the practicality and secondly, personal pleasure, and the sense of beauty in small objects. Before Gutenberg, for matters European, miniature manuscripts were periodically produced completed with illuminations. Subsequently, the production of miniature books has continued to reflect the latest progresses of print machines and processes. There were miniature books printed in early Gothic and incunabula type characters, or in the earliest Greek types, Hebrew and so on. As in a shrinking mirror they were reflecting all new type acquisitions and binding progress [5].

Little books were simultaneously produced in the centuries alongside regular standard, so that men and women of faith could easily bring with them their collection of psalms and devotional books, students could carry their small library in a pocket, smugglers of ideas could easily hide tiny booklets in a secret bottom of their cape, merchants could quickly retrieve from their belt a tiny but complete guide on the equivalence of grains prices, scales, measures and conversion, and foreign currencies value meanwhile closing a deal, or that sharp businessmen could brilliantly define a legal contract.

It has been for that purpose that some of the earliest examples of books on miniature support were produced during the Babylonian Empire, as for the case of two small cuneiform tablets of Ancient Mesopotamia which preserve an antique writing system and concern trade and administrative issues. One of them, a clay tablet dated back to the 7th year of the reign of Bur-Sin, circa 2325 B.C., comes from the region of Ur, today Iraq, and measure only 1 5/8” x 1 1/2”. It contains extremely useful information while dealing with barley and bran for sheep (1), and the other, a Babylonian clay tablet from Senkereh, now Iraq, is dated 2200 B.C., and measure 1 7/8” x 1 1/4”, it was also used in the trading of animals and provisions (2).


(1), and (2). Photographic reproduction of an illustration taken from Miniature books: 4000 years of tiny treasures, by Anne C. Bromer, Julian I. Edison (New York: Abrams ; New York: The Grolier Club, 2007), pp. 11-12 [Shelfmark: LC.31.a.5071]

 

Another beautiful miniature object is the world’s first printing on paper. A very tiny scroll 23/8” tall obtained from wood blocks, is dated back to 770 A. D. and is well known as the D’harani prayer. Only the story of its origins is as enchanting as the scroll itself. With the aim of spreading awareness on Buddhism, the Japanese Empress Shotoku, gave order to print a million copy of these prayer-scrolls encased in charming wooden pagodas, then asked they be distributed all over the country divided among ten Japanese temples, a project which required over six years of continuous work [6].


A rare example of the D’harani prayer (23/8” tall) as illustrate by the Library of Congress Asian Collection




Annalisa Ricciardi is currently working as Cataloguer of the American Studies Collections. She is working on a heterogeneous collection of extraordinary interest and artistic value of American fine press and artists’ books, such as limited, numbered, and rare editions chronologically placed between 18th and 21st century.


[1] Gulliver’s travels, illustrated by Rex Whistler (London: The Cresset Press, 1930), vol. I, p. 18 [Shelfmark: C.100.I.14].
[2] Louis W. Bondy, Miniature books: their history from the beginnings to the present day (London: Sheppard Press, 1981), p. 3 [Shelfmark: 2708.e.223].
[3] Louis W. Bondy, Miniature books, pp. 93-95; and Anne C. Bromer, Julian I. Edison, Miniature books: 4000 years of tiny treasures, (New York: Abrams ; New York: The Grolier Club, 2007), pp. 47-49, 114. [BL Shelfmark: LC.31.a.5071].
[4] Doris V. Welsh, The history of miniature books (Albany, New York: Fort Orange Press, 1987), pp. 5-11 [Shelfmark: 2708.e.1550].
[5] Welsh, The history of miniature books, p. 2.
[6] Miniature books from the collection of Julian I. Edison (St. Louis, Missouri: Washington University), pp. 1-2 [Shelfmark: Cup.406.j.11]. See a rare example of the D’harani prayer as illustrate by the Library of Congress Asian Collection page: https://www.loc.gov/rr/asian/guide/guide-japanese.html

 

12 March 2013

New acquisitions: 2 early Mexican imprints

Add comment Comments (0)

  Our colleague Dr Barry Taylor reports:

Although the British Library has important collections of books from colonial Latin America, including the earliest extant book printed in the Americas, Zumárraga’s Dotrina breve de las cosas que pertenecen a la fe catholica (Mexico, 1543/44, BL shelfmark C.37.e.8), such books are now all too often prohibitively expensive for us to acquire.  The recent acquisition of two seventeenth-century Mexican imprints is therefore particularly noteworthy.

Garcia

Public Domain Mark Esteban García, El máximo limosnero, mayor padre de pobres, grande arçobispo de Valencia, provincial de la Andaluzia, Castilla, y Nueva-España, de la orden de san Augustin, S. Thomas de Villanueva…  (México: por la viuda de Bernardo Calderón, 1657).  [8], 95 leaves.  BL shelfmark  RB.23.a.35577. 

St Thomas of Vilanova (1487 or 88 – 1555) was beatified in 1618 and  canonised on 1 November 1658.  His hagiographer seems to have anticipated this by calling him ‘Saint’ in 1657.  It was not uncommon for the supporters of candidates for sainthood to anticipate the official canonisation: Duarte Pacheco’s Epitome da vida apostolica, e milagres de S. Thomas de Villa Nova appeared in 1629 (BL shelfmark: 1578/1091). 

St Thomas was a notable professor of theology and preacher in Spain.  He seems never to have visited America but sent friars of his order to evangelise in Mexico in 1533 and in 1547 he ordained Luis Beltrán, the future American missionary.

A further interest of both these new acquisitions is that it they are the work of  women printers.  Most women who became printers at this period, in Europe and in the Americas, did so by taking over their husband’s business on his death.  Paula de Benavides and her husband Bernardo Calderón founded a press in Mexico City in 1631; widowed with six children, she took over the business in 1641 and died in 1684.

García’s book was also read by women, as it once belonged to the ‘Convento Antiguo de Carmelitas Descalsa [sic]  de Nuestro Padre Señor San Joseph’ in Mexico City (inscription on reverse of title page).  Saints’ lives were the recommended reading of the godly, and were contrasted with the romances of chivalry.

If we might see García’s book as aimed at the reader at home, our second acquisition, like so many of the books printed in the Americas in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, is a reference work for clerics spreading the faith. 

Ledesma

Public Domain Mark Clemente de Ledesma, Compendio del Despertador de noticias de los Santos Sacramentos (México: por Doña María de Benavides, 1695).  [24], 368, 32 pages.  BL shelfmark  RB.23.a.35576.

This is one of a series of manuals by the Franciscan Ledesma.  He published his Despertador de noticias de los Santos Sacramentos in 1695.  The present work was published in the same year.  The Despertador de noticias theologicas morales followed in 1698; and in 1699 the Despertador republicano, que por las letras del A.B.C. compendia los dos compendios del primero, y segundo tomo del despertador de noticias theologicas morales.  (The BL has the second edition: Mexico: por Doña Maria de Benavides Viuda de Juan de Ribera, 1700; BL, 4402.n.32).  Each of these works claims to be a compendium of its predecessors.

Heiress of  Paula Benavides and widow of the printer Juan de Ribera, María de Benavides began her printing career in 1685 and is recorded as late as 1700. 

See: Barry Taylor and Geoffrey West, ‘Libros religiosos coloniales de la British Library: libros impresos en México, Perú, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador y Guatemala, 1543/4-1800’, Redial, 8-9 (1997-98 [2001]), 69-92. Also available on the British Library’s website here.

[B.T.]

21 September 2010

Americans in Britain: Mather Brown

Add comment Comments (0)

P9199702

It was a busy weekend in London; those not watching Papamobiles or Pinarellos could also take advantage of Open House, and queue up to peek inside many of the city's architectural gems.  As a result, the curator of North American History found himself inside St Mary le Strand, a baroque stunner.

Although sadly showing some of the signs of ageing from its precarious position, stranded in the midst of a busy road, it is being bravely kept up by the efforts of the churchwardens (a plaque to their illustrious predecessors who spent most of the Blitz in the muniments room keeping an eye out for firebombs and then sweeping them off the roof can be seen on one of the walls).   Two of the beneficiaries of this care are brightly-restored paintings in the side walls of the chancel, by Mather Brown, a pupil of the more famous American painter, Benjamin West, and whose influence can strongly be seen in their style.  They were installed in 1785, a year before Brown, who had left America during the Revolution, painted the first portrait of Thomas Jefferson, during a visit to London as Ambassador to France.  The painting, which was owned by John Adams thanks to an exchange of portraits between the two friends, can now be seen in the Smithsonian.  

Brown's career, which peaked not long after before a sad decline into penury (he died in 1831 at Barbara Hofland's boarding house,  with just Mrs. Hofland 'to weep over him, & moisten his parched lips with an orange'), is detailed in Dorinda Evans, Mather Brown, early American artist in England (Middletown, Conn. : Wesleyan University Press, 1982) [LB.31.b.7011]

Brown's autobiographical notes and list of engraved works can also be found in Thomas Dodd's 'Memoirs of English Engravers, 1550-1800', held by the BL's Department of Manuscripts (Add. MS. 33,397); there are also letters to Lord Liverpool at Add. MS. 33,587, f. 53 and Add. MS. 38,580, f. 18.  The bulk of the unpublished correspondence is held at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

 

[M.S.]