Book and manuscript specialist Simon Roberts summed up a highlight of Bonhams’ (27.5/25/20/13.9% buyer’s premium) February 23 auction. Titled In The Palm Of Your Hand Small Is Beautiful, this Knightsbridge sale offered, as that name suggests, miniature works of art.
Production of miniature books had begun at a very much earlier date but most of the examples seen in the accompanying illustration of this exceptional lot dated from the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The majority of them bore the imprint of David Bryce & Son of Glasgow, a publisher which had been quick to see the appeal of such miniatures. Its little books were in many cases produced in collaboration with Henry Frowde at the Oxford University Press.
The works on offer included any number of tiny Bibles, even chained examples, along with Qu’rans, the smallest English dictionary ever printed at just over an inch tall, and complete sets of literary classics, among them, almost inevitably, a tiny, 40-volume set of Shakespeare’s works.
Some of those last mentioned volumes, bound in limp roan of various colours, had spines that were worn, defective or even detached, but these tiny copies of the Bard’s works were still in their original revolving bookcase.
Among the many other literary sets and individual gems was a 1911 copy of Gray’s Elegy that at not much more than half an inch tall was billed as the smallest of the Bryce books – so tiny and so exceedingly rare that at one time there were those who thought such a work did not actually exist.
In a comparatively short space of time Bryce went from being a relatively unknown publisher to a vastly successful entrepreneur, and on a later occasion recalled: “I descended to the miniature, mite and midget size, producing a little dictionary, the smallest in the world, in a locket accompanied by a magnifying glass. I had many a scoff and jeer as to the absurdity of the production, nevertheless it at once appealed… and its sales are now over 100,000.”
The tiny library offered by Bonhams sold for £8200.