Ruth E. Adomeit|
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At the beginning of the nineteenth century, a major innovation occurred in the publication of children's books. Publishers such as John Marshall, John Harris, successor to the Newberys, Darton, Harvey and Co., and J. Wallis began publishing complete libraries for children. The first of these, John Marshall's The Juvenile, or Child's Library was issued in 1800, and though slightly larger than the standard usually accepted for miniature books, its importance justifies this exception to strict size standards. Miniature libraries are a special genre within the fields of both miniature books and children's literature, and of special significance to the Lilly Library, representing the fortunate combination of the Elisabeth Ball Collection of Historical Children's Materials and the Ruth E. Adomeit Collection of Miniature Books with the collections and ongoing collecting of the Lilly Library.
Miniature libraries share a number of features, though not all are present in all examples. Bindings are usually uniform, often with various pastel or patterned boards or wrappers bearing similar title labels. Miniature library boxes are built to resemble miniature bookcases, often with small drawers for related materials, which could include pencils, paper, or instructional cards. The drawers enhance their resemblance to miniature pieces of furniture, as did the sliding fronts, which usually present an attractive mounted illustration related to the subject matter, and are often topped with decorative woodwork.
The subject matter of miniature libraries offers an insight into what parents at the beginning of the nineteenth century expected their children to become acquainted with, and pair the subjects with illustrations. Books of kings and rulers present history and portraits, and natural history presents the opportunity for illustrated miniature volumes of birds, beasts, fishes, etc. Bible history was also often included, as were alphabets and spelling. As Brian Alderson notes in "Miniature Libraries for the Young," "Craftsmanship, didactic imagination, and shrewd assessment of the potential of a new market brought about a flurry of invention..."