Huntington Blog Post: Enchanting Miniature Books

Check out my most recent blog post about the magnificent collection of miniature books at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens here.


Special Blog Post: Fairy Hunting at the Huntington

Check out my most recent blog post, entitled “Fairy Hunting at the Huntington,” here. In it, I discuss some of the materials that I’ve found while on a long-term fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities at the Huntington Library.

Pocket Etiquette

The Diamond Ettiquette [sic] of Courtship and Marriage (London: Ewins, 1845): 2 x 1 3/8 inches (5.1 x 3.5 cm)

Seen at the University of North Texas Special Collections.

IMG_1040The Diamond Ettiquette [sic] of Courtship and Marriage measures just 2 by 1 3/8 of an inch, making it about the size of two quarters. Priced at just 6 shillings (about £2.39 today), [1] this affordable and portable volume belongs to a set of miniature etiquettes, including The Diamond Etiquette for Ladies, The Diamond Etiquette for Gentlemen, and later The Pocket Language of Flowers. Portable etiquette books ostensibly offer emergency etiquette advice to their owners. The utility of a miniature guide to courtship and marriage, however, is somewhat less clear. What lady or gentleman, after all, would consult his or her portable etiquette book in the midst of a proposal?

The Diamond Ettiquette surveys various aspects of courtship, with chapters on General Conduct, Proposals, Intervention of Parents or Guardians, Correspondence, Conduct after Betrothal, Conduct on retiring from an Engagement, and Marriage. Although addressed to both sexes, the advice applies predominantly to ladies. Indeed, the writer comments upon the difficulty of condensing the necessary advice for women “to the size of so small a manual as the present” (19).

So what did a Victorian lady need to know about courtship and marriage?

First and foremost, a lady ought never to flirt. Flirtation, the author explains, is “[a]n evil of great magnitude” (20-1), which could damage a lady’s reputation permanently. Once a lady is known for IMG_1044her flirtatious ways, she “must go through the world with a stain upon her reputation,—a blot upon her moral escutcheon, which not all the rubbings of a Madame Bluebeard could ever erase” (23-4). Without a trace of irony, the author blurs the lines between real and imagined scenarios, invoking the fairy tale to convey the irreparable seriousness of a social sin. After receiving a proposal, the lady-reader is instructed defer to the wisdom of her relatives after making her own opinions known. She should also be wary of consulting her friends about the marriage, because they might have their own interests at heart. “Female confidantes,” the guide warns, “are frequently the most dangerous friends” (50).

Even once a proposal has been made and accepted, a lady must carefully guard her reputation against the possible dangers of a fickle or untrustworthy suitor. In particular, she must be careful about what she writes, since “a gentleman’s estimation will rise or fall like a domestic weather glass, according to the ability exhibited in composition” (73-4). No comment is made upon the quality of gentleman whose affections change like the weather. Similarly, if the courtship is broken off, a cadish gentleman might, “whilst professing to return letters, be devoid of principle, to the extent of taking copies, and exhibiting them for the amusement of his every-day friends” (75). Such a prank, again, might permanently damage a lady’s reputation by making her the fodder of a crude joke.

A Victorian gentleman faced far fewer risks during courtship. While gentlemen are also warned against flirtation, the author admits that a lady “receives a much larger share of public odium” than a gentleman for such behavior (25). A gentleman should avoid becoming either a “Jack Brag” (35), who talks too much about his female conquests, or a sentimental romantic, whose “lovesick expressions of sighing and dying, whining and pining” would be “unmanly, and indicative of a very weak mind” (76-7). But while a gentleman might repulse some of his acquaintances through bad behavior, he is faced with no serious consequences. Upon marriage, the gentleman gains the social prerogative both to abandon his own “bachelor friends” at will and to require his wife to drop any of her friends whom he deems unsuitable (105-7).

Signing the Register (n.d.) by Edmund Blair Leighton. Image from Wikipedia Commons.

Signing the Register (n.d.) by Edmund Blair Leighton. Image from Wikipedia Commons.

By following these rules, the author of the manual declares, a man and woman may be sure that their marriage “will prove happy in its consummation, and lead to the enjoyment of genuine domestic felicity” (5). The miniature format of the volume serves to reinforce the idea that domestic happiness may be achieved through a relatively simple set of etiquette rules. For present-day readers, the dubious guidance offered here may not seem to guarantee domestic bliss. Yet the miniature volume still holds the enchanting allure of a secret manual, which promises to contain some gem of hidden wisdom inside.

      1. For approximate conversion values from the nineteenth century (or earlier!) to today, visit the website Measuring Worth, at


Pocket Maps

The Waistcoat Pocket Map of London ([London] Paris: Dower, ca.1865): 2 7/16 x 2 inches (6.2 x 5 cm)

IMG_0156Seen at the Bridwell Library at Southern Methodist University

The Waistcoat Pocket Map of London has an unassuming exterior, with cloth boards covered by a faded green paper label. The cover spells out both the contents of the work and their proposed utility: “Shewing all the Railways and Stations, Public Buildings, Streets, and with Reference to all the Chief Objects of Interest. Divided into half mile Squares to calculate Cab Fares.” Upon opening the cover, linen pages unfold to display a hand colored rectangular map of the city, measuring about 20 x 12 inches (51 x 32 cm) The words “The Visitor’s Map of London” are emblazoned across the top twice: in the middle and in a box in the right corner.

The unfolded map offers an impressively detailed birds’ eye view of the city of London. The map labels each individual street and names many key buildings, representing their size and shape as IMG_0157seen from above. A grid structure divides the city into half mile squares, while letters distinguish general regions of the city: “W” for “West,” “NW” for “North West,” “CW” for “Center West.” A key at the bottom of the map lists the locations on the map’s grid of 173 unique sites in London, with railway termini listed in a separate section and with the “International Exhibition” highlighted in a larger font size. The map uses color to highlight select locales; railway termini are highlighted in red, parks and the Thames in slightly different shades of blue, and major thoroughfares in yellow. The unfolded map remains affixed to the cardboard covers of the book. While this attachment secures the map in its case, it also makes the book’s cover stubbornly present for the reader, blocking one square of the map and destabilizing the map by creating a comparatively heavy weight on the left side.

Pocket maps like this one were popular during the nineteenth century as a response to the burgeoning urban landscape of London. In 1838, the publisher Edward Mogg urged visitors to London to provide themselves with pocket maps, noting,

IMG_0167To avoid the inconvenience of taxing his friend to an attendance upon him in his peregrinations, it is indispensable that [the visitor to London] provide himself with a plan of London . . . like the clue of Ariadne, they will conduct him through the labyrinth, and, occasionally consulted, will enable him, unattended, to thread with ease the mazes of this vast metropolis. [1]

Mogg’s classical analogy serves to underline three essential ideas about London: first, that the city of London was a maze that could be navigated only with a guide, second, that without a map, London may pose dangers like the Minotaur’s labyrinth, and third, that a pocket guide, like a ball of thread, would guide the visitor easily even as its size permitted it to be concealed from public view.

The idea of a pocket map is, of course, familiar to us today; travelers continued to IMG_0166rely upon these maps until they were recently displaced by smartphones. The Waistcoat Pocket Map of London differs from such contemporary examples in its effort to make the map conform to the shape of a miniature book. In placing a map, already a miniature representation of the city, within a miniature book, the format serves to underline the idea that the city itself has been condensed into a portable form. For a Victorian audience that understood the miniature book as a form of condensed knowledge, the printing of a map as a miniature book presented the map as a private source of knowledge about the city that, much like Ariadne’s thread, offered the “reader” a talismanic guide to the city.

1. Edward Mogg. Mogg’s New Picture of London, and Visitor’s Guide to Its Sights, Eleventh Edition (London: Mogg, 1848): 204.

Bijou Almanac

Letitia E. Landon, The English Bijou Almanac for 1839 (London: Schloss, 1838): ¾ x 9/16 inch (1.9 x 1.5 cm) IMG_0216

Seen at the Bridwell Library at Southern Methodist University.

At first glance, The English Bijou Almanac for 1839 scarcely appears to be a book at all. Measuring just three quarters of an inch by nine-sixteenths of an inch, the volume is slightly smaller than a person’s thumb. The cover bears the words The English Bijou, bracketed on top and bottom by two red circles rimmed with gold dots and surrounded by an ornate series of curves, lines and dots. More expensive editions of the same volume feature hard binding in morocco or vellum, elaborate cases in velvet or tortoiseshell, and matching magnifying glasses that fit into the case. This almanac lives up to its name as a bijou; it is a precious object that encases its literary content in a jewel-like form.

While The English Bijou Almanac delights as a precious object, it poses a variety of mechanical IMG_0217challenges to the reader. The text of the volume is printed in a miniscule, italicized font that is difficult to parse without a magnifying glass. The reader who strains his or her eyes to read this text also confronts the considerable mechanical challenges of turning thin pages and of keeping the tightly bound work open without blocking the text with his or her fingers. Indeed, the reader’s hands feel massive in relation to the volume, like clumsy instruments that are barely capable of the necessary manipulation of pages. It is difficult to imagine any reader attempting to overcome these challenges and to use this precious and impractical object for practical purposes.

Still, the English Bijou Almanac presents ostensibly useful charts alongside poetic fancies. The combination of useful and entertaining material is typical of nineteenth century almanacs. Yet the IMG_0218emphasis here falls dramatically on the poetic material. Practical charts, including a calendar and lists of the royal family, the Sovereigns of Europe, the Queen’s Ministers and the Ladies of the Court, appear only after a series of poems dedicated to luminaries like the Duchess of Kent (mother of Queen Victoria), the Duke of Wellington and Beethoven. The title page proudly emphasizes that the volume is “poetically illustrated by L.E.L. [Letitia Elizabeth Landon]” and each poem (or poetic illustration) is accompanied by a visual image which further attracts the reader’s gaze. Within this context, the practical charts included at the end of the volume seem almost an afterthought: a practical pretense for a work that itself embodies an extreme vision of literary minuteness.

Despite the seeming improbability of The English Bijou Almanac’s existence, Albert Schloss published editions of the work yearly from 1835 to 1843 to great acclaim. Indeed, the 1838 volume was dedicated to Queen Victoria and the 1839 almanac included a portrait of Prince Albert in honor of the impending royal nuptials, both with the Queen’s permission. Landon’s poems, which appeared in the first five years of IMG_0219the Bijou Almanac’s publication, lent literary credibility to a work that was already a marvel of miniature printing. In this almanac, the last one for which she wrote, Landon composes a short poem entitled, “A Farewell.” “My little Fairy Chronicle, / The prettiest of my tasks, farewell!” she writes, commemorating her work as belonging, not to the everyday world of reality, but rather to an alternative realm of fairyland. In remaking the almanac as a bijou and a fairy chronicle, Schloss acknowledges the potential utility of miniature books (as portable reference volumes) even as he defies this utility by creating an almanac that delights precisely because of the incredibly small dimensions which make it impractical to use.

Pocket Globes and International Populations

Photo Jun 18, 12 34 48 PMThe Earth and Its Inhabitants (Nuremberg, c.1820): 2 1/8 x 2 9/16 x 2 1/8 inches (5.4 x 6.5 x 5.4 cm)

Seen at the Bridwell Library at Southern Methodist University. [1]

The Earth and Its Inhabitants comes in the form, not of a traditional miniature book, but rather of a pastel blue cardboard box with a label on the top giving the work’s title. Inside the box, a miniature or pocket globe, measuring about 1.7 inches in diameter, sits atop an accordion-folded set of pages, which are attached on one end to the bottom of the box and which have a red tab on the other end for the reader to lift the strip out of its case. EPhoto Jun 18, 12 25 25 PMach page of the foldout book measures 1 7/8 x 1 5/8 inches (4.7 x 4.2 cm) and includes a hand painted image of a male inhabitant of a foreign country, wearing the dress traditionally associated with his nation. Captions beneath list the man’s nationality in German, French and English, often with unusual English spellings or names. [2] Citizens of major European nations (including “English,” “Frankh,” “Italien,” and “Swiss”) mingle alongside inhabitants of remote countries (including the “Siamese,” “Japonese,” “Hindoe,” and “Neger”). The volume places a clear emphasis upon exoticism; Germans are omitted from the set, but the “Ostiaki” (Siberians), “Illirian” (ancient Balkans), “Calmuc” (peoples north of Tibet), “Tscherkesse” (peoples north of Turkey), and “Hottentotte” (South Africans) are Photo Jun 18, 12 35 07 PMall included. The nations are roughly organized into regions of the world, from the east Asia, to Canada, Africa, west Asia and Europe. This order, however, is imperfect; the “Cine” [the Chinese] are inexplicably represented between a “Spaniard” and the “Persians.”

The usual format of this work simultaneously serves to miniaturize the world and to suggest its expansive scale. Enclosed within a diminutive box, the world becomes a portable object. Pocket Photo Jun 18, 12 42 30 PMglobes like the one in this set, indeed, were popular in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, especially in England. These globes were presumably intended to teach children geography, although critics have suggested that they also functioned as geographical reference tools and as novelty toys for adults. [3] Yet while the globe serves to miniaturize the word, the 32 accordion-bound images serve to suggest the expansive variety of global populations. The strip of images unfolds to approximately 52 inches or 4 1/3 feet (132 cm) in length, parading figures that represent the diversity of global societies. The world, in this representation, is at once an knowable commodity that can be purchased and put in the pocket and an endless extent of new and diverse persons. Far from representing the earth and its inhabitants exhaustively, this work invites its reader to imagine the inhabitants of the rest of the globe.

1. This research was made possible by a Bridwell Library Research Fellowship.

2. All spellings are original to the work. 3. See Edward H. Dahl and Jean-François Gauvin. Sphaerae Mundi: Early Globes at the Stewart Museum (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s UP, 2000): 89-90.