One day, over 35 years ago, when searching at a rare book shop in Wilbraham, MA for new items for her rare book collection, Anne Bromer discovered a toolbox on top of some bookshelves. She asked the seller to take it down for her. When opened, the box revealed dozens of books all less than 3 inches tall packed tightly into drawers. Bromer bought the whole box, and her passion for miniature books ― or “treasures” as she calls them ― was born.
The tiny books bridge practicality and intricate aesthetic, and over 50 of them are now on display through September 2 in “4,000 Years of Tiny Treasures,” an exhibit in the Cheverus Room at the Boston Public Library.
The books, which Bromer refers to “miniature works of art,” contain pictures, speeches, biographies, plays, and short stories. Most can be read without a magnifying glass, holding less than six lines on a page, and sometimes intricate, full-page drawings. The first miniature books came in the form of small cuneiform tablets in ancient Sumerian civilizations, and were primarily used to keep track of property. Their practicality lies in their portability, enabling people to carry daily prayers with them in a convenient form, as well as allowing the books to be passed from person to person more easily: this was how many slaves discovered Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
Upon entering the room, six glass cases greet the visitor. Some of the books are from Bromer’s collection; others belong to the BPL’s permanent collections. Some favorites include a 40-volume set of the works of the Bard, complete with a four-sided revolving bookcase. Another is a miniature Bible attached to a lectern by a chain.
Edward Gorey’s Abecedarium is a cult favorite among miniature book collectors, Bromer explains. Many customers ask for his work at Bromer’s Booksellers, the shop on the corner of Dartmouth and Boylston that Bromer owns and runs with her husband.
Jay Santini, who works at Bromer’s Booksellers, explains that the affordability of miniature books varies widely, from tens of thousands of dollars down to $50 for more modern, privately created pieces.
Darrell Hyder, a printer from North Brookfield, Mass, speaks to the intricate level of detail required to create and print these tiny books; because of the size of type and size of paper, manufacturing the books to exact specifications is extremely difficult. Bromer rejected the first book he printed for her because the edges of some pages were a sixteenth of an inch off. “If you don’t do it just right,” Hyder says, “the books look like a prize in a Cracker Jack box.”
Bromer’s reasoning for placing the books on exhibit is simple: “I wanted to get the word out. These are so much more than trivial gimmicks.”