As I wrote earlier, the question of what is the smallest size screen – or page – for comfortable or practical reading is suddenly a live one again, with the advent of a new generation of smartwatches that could theoretically be turned into wrist ereaders. The National Library of Scotland has just opened an exhibition, “Miniature books in Scotland,” that adds some material to the debate in the form of some great examples of mini-book publishing.

“Scottish publishers have made a unique contribution to the world of small books,” ran the announcement. “The National Library of Scotland owns one of the world’s great collections of miniature books. Our autumn ‘treasures’ display features a choice selection of these micro-volumes.”

Of course, no one is claiming that the copy of ‘Old King Cole’ issued by the Gleniffer Press of Paisley in 1985, and Guinness Book of Records’ holder for over two decades of the title of smallest book in the world printed using offset lithography at only 0.9mm high, represents a serious precedent for readable miniature books. But the miniature Qu’rans printed by David Bryce in 1900, and fitted with their own magnifying glass for reading, represent a more serious effort to make a tiny yet usable book. And the same publisher’s miniature Bibles, only 43mm high, testify to the Protestant tradition of literacy and scriptural devotion that inspired these diminutive works.

Meantime, readers of a more Scottish nationalist bent – like me – can content themselves with Gleniffer’s edition of the poems of Robert Burns – the size of a thumbnail.


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