Do you have good eyesight? Then you should try reading one of our miniature editions of Shakespeare’s works. This blog looks at miniature ‘Shakespeares’ donated to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust library by the nineteenth century Scottish publisher David Bryce. Like many other donations from that time, the librarian kept the donor’s letter with the item: unlike most donation letters, the letter by Bryce isn’t pasted on to a preliminary page (it would have been too large for such a small book!) but is stored in a specially made box where the book resides. Below is a transcript of the letter which sheds light on the difficulties that Bryce faced when producing the book:
“Dear Mr. Brassington [former librarian at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre and author of local subjects],
I have pleasure in sending you a couple of copies of ‘The Little Shakespeare’ it is a curiosity & will I daresay find its own clientele of purchases, it has been a most troublesome book to produce – some of the plates not coming up so clearly, as the others but on the whole it looks fairly well.
Trusting you are well and with kind regards.
I am yours my truly,
An advertisement for the book is also stored inside the box along with the letter. The advert claims the book is “the smallest Shakespeare in the world.”
Victorians must have had good eyesight or excellent magnifying glasses. The book’s height is only 10 cm and easily fits into the palm of my hand. The binding is one of the most unusual I’ve ever seen: made of velvet calf, it also features ‘yapp edges’ which means the edges of the binding overlap the book boards, partially covering the fore-edge.
According to The miniature book society, David Bryce produced more miniature books than any other publisher in the world. Bryce founded the company from his home in 1832 and, in addition to his publishing business, he also ran a lending library. One of his most well known books is a small English dictionary which sold over two million copies. In 1900 he published a miniature version of the Koran which was sent out to Muslim soldiers in WWI who are said to have worn the small book around their necks.
Most of our miniature books come in a book box or are stored on miniature shelves specially made for them. One of our sets of Bryce publications, however, is housed in a box designed to look like a book, and when checking the shelves for this set I couldn’t find it, worrying it might be missing. However, I had overlooked a note on the catalogue about the enclosure, and after re-checking the catalogue I managed to find this well disguised miniature set.
Bryce’s books are certainly among the most unusual in our library collection and also some of our most fascinating.