Ruth E. Adomeit|
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Modern & Contemporary Presses A Gallery of Books James Weygand & the Indiana Kid
June 18 - September 15, 2001
A summer exhibition of miniature books at Indiana University's Lilly Library reveals more than 4,000 years of social and printing history, from wood-block printing to microengraving.
Among the items on display: a rare Buddhist scroll known to be the earliest dated piece of printing; beautifully engraved children's books; and a micro-miniature smaller than a penny.
"The Lilly Library collection of miniature books is among the largest in the country," says Stephen Cape, curator of the exhibition . "Choosing 900 or so books from a collection of more than 16,000 was quite a challenge. The intention was to give exhibition viewers a picture of what the entire collection is like."
Miniature books--so called because they are smaller than three inches--are both a curiosity and a subject of serious scholarship.
Through the ages religion has played an important role in miniature book production. Miniature religious texts and books of devotion were eminently portable, allowing the devout to carry and use them whenever the occasion arose. Many major religious texts are represented in the Lilly collections, including Bibles, the Torah, and Buddhist sutras.
Because they were easily concealed, miniature books also often provided the medium for sensitive subject matter. The first manual on birth control published in the United States, Charles Knowlton's Fruits of Philosophy, or, The Private Companion of Young Married People, was published as a miniature in 1832.
And the world's earliest authentically dated printing on paper is a wooden block print made in Japan in about 770 AD. The Empress Shotoku, frightened by a smallpox epidemic, ordered one million copies printed of this tiny Bhuddist charm scroll, which she distributed throughout her country .
Printing in miniature is technically challenging, and miniature books were often produced to display the techniques of the bookmakers. In the letterpress era, this ranged from designing type, cutting punches, casting type, and developing paper and inks suitable for use with them.
A bequest from miniature book collector and scholar Ruth E. Adomeit to the Lilly Library in 1996 was perhaps the single largest infusion of miniature books into an institutional or rare book library ever to occur. The Adomeit collection, known for its comprehensiveness and breadth, complements the Elisabeth Ball Collection of Historical Children's Materials, donated to the Lilly Library in 1983.
The Lilly Library on the Bloomington campus is part of the Indiana University Libraries.