Finding my favourite object among 40,000
Since before I arrived at the Museum of East Anglian Life for my University placement, I knew the museum had an amazing 40,000 objects. My first week was filled with staff and volunteer recommendations of their favourite objects in the collection and my placement meant I would get to handle objects that have been tucked away for years and years. The small objects store holds a hard to know the number of objects, from teeny tiny toy coins to beautiful wedding gowns. With the Shooting Stars Project each item is being taken out, cleaned, photographed and repacked, so pretty quickly I got comfortable with how the collection is stored and how to search through all the boxes.
Working on research for Fake News in The Age Of The Horse, I wanted to pull out any family bibles or personal books someone may have made some notes in. Whilst looking for a book which had pages of births, marriages and deaths, I came across this tiny wonder that got me excited straight away. This little book sparked conversations about why someone would want such a small book and how they would read such teeny tiny writing. We talked about accessibility, spectacles and magnifying glasses, candlelight and electricity as well as religion and society of the 1800s.
A History of Miniature Books.
One of the first miniatures, Diurnal Mogantium, measuring just 3 x 4 inches, was set and bound by an assistant of Gutenberg, Peter Schoffer, in 1468. By the mid-1800s, miniatures were trending. An explosion of mini instructional manuals, songsters, hymnals, whimsical works for children and satires became readily available. Some miniatures were made specifically for concealment. The Fruit of Philosophy; or, The Private Companion of Young Married People (1832), is a how-to guide on contraception. Miniature books are designed in conventional style, but they are also made accordion-style, as foldouts, scrolls, or pop-up books. As for the printing, the text was created by hand calligraphy, letterpress, photoengraving, lithography, or more contemporary, computers and copiers. The last two techniques were more often used to reproduce and reduce larger volumes that were previously printed. The small size of the book allowed for beautiful materials to be used in binding, such as silver filigree, gold, mother-of-pearl, jewels, crystal, onyx, and malachite. Due to the labour necessary to create these books, printings are generally limited to less than 150. In many cases, items are counted in dozens or are one-of-a-kind.
Grace Latham, Collections Trainee.
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