Author Archives: Todd Sommerfeld

Miniature Books With Sterling Silver Covers


After sharing pictures of a few miniature books with sterling silver covers on Facebook I was asked about what is inside such beautiful books. While I’m no expert, having just recently acquired the four at Booksby, I’ll do my best to lay some groundwork that you, kind reader, can use for further research.

The books are all bound in red or black morocco leather with elaborate gilt stamped spines with the silver relief clipped over the front cover or riveted to it. The relief is of .925 sterling and is hallmarked, as is all English silver, with the grade (standing lion for .925), year stamp, city of manufacture, and the silversmith’s mark. The text is printed on the finest, thin India paper and range from several hundred to over a thousand pages. All measure about 2 1/4 x 1 7/8 inches. Most if not all the titles were also bound in suede, cloth, vellum, and leather without the silver. The three primary publishers are: Oxford University Press, Eyre & Spottiswoode, and William Clowes & Sons. Most of these books seem to come from the first decade of the 20th century.


There are several titles you will find with this treatment. The most commonly encountered is The Book of Common prayer. Along with this you may find: Hymns Ancient & Modern, The Poetical Works of Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Poetical Works of Longfellow, The Royal Bijou Birthday Book, and the Handbook of Practical Cookery, as well as miniature notebooks and address books. The Book of Common Prayer comes most often with a relief of “Five Angels” after a painting by Joshua Reynolds, but there are almost two dozen other covers for this title alone. Longfellow and Tennyson both sport fine portraits of the respective poets, Cookery has a cauldron suspended over a fire and the Birthday Book has a wonderful beer garden scene, among others.

In the literature of miniature books, Bondy makes mention of them on pages 120-121, 139, and 167-168. Bromer/Edison doesn’t say a lot about them but has two spectacular photos of almost three dozen different covers on pages 58 and 80-81.

You can find these in dealer’s catalogs or at auction for just under one hundred dollars to several hundred dollars, depending on condition and rarity. I’ll put more photos inside & out and descriptions of the four I have in the gallery in the next few days.

Decalogus- Jan & Jarmila Sabota

An unusual shape book, Decalogus is the ten commandments in ten languages. It is the first miniature book the Sabota’s made upon their return to the Czech Republic in 1999. They had previously worked in Ohio and Texas during communist rule in Eastern Europe, but were able to return home after the fall of the Soviet Union. We lost Jan in 2012 but Jarmila is still making beautiful books, both miniature and large.

The book is in a cruciform shape and has a hand tooled leather binding with gold stamping. It comes in the lovely gold bag as well.
The text is printed in gold on handmade paper in a numbered edition of 100, of which this is 59. I won this one at the MBS annual silent auction in Boston last year and Jarmila tells me it’s the last copy she had.

Miniature Books- Louis Bondy

I’ve wanted to do a series on essential and nonessential reference works on miniature books so here’s the first installment.

This is the first edition of “Miniature Books, Their History From the Beginnings to the Present Day” by Louis Bondy, published by the Shepard Press in London in 1981. This is the most important reference on miniature books for the beginning collector. It gives the complete history of miniature books from the 16th century to the late 20th century, although the information is heavily in favor of Books from England.

I have a later edition of this book republished by Richard Joseph Publishers of Oxford in 1994, after the death of Bondy, but this copy is special in that it was the personal copy of Hilda Neiman, and contains her notes about books she’d purchased, many from her friend, Ruth Adomeit.

The Dillon’s 1969 Reprint of Schloss’s London Bijou Almanac for 1843

Here’s a nice little thing done up in 1969. It is a 50% photographic enlargement of the Schloss’s London Bijou Almanac for 1843.
The set, available in 1969 for $13.50 includes a folder with a short history of the almanacs, one set of uncut sheets, to bind your own, and the replica almanac itself. It measures 1 1/2 x 15/16 inches and is bound in brown glove leather. It was released in an edition of 65. This is number 59.

The original almanac was entirely engraved, an amazing feat considering the size. I wish I had one.
You can read more about this one in The Miniature Book News, Number 17, September 1969.

The Kurt Adler Miniature Music Box Book

It’s not a valuable book but I’ve wanted one since it appeared in Anne Bromer and Julian Edison’s book “Miniature Books, 4,000 Years of Tiny Treasures.

Kurt S. Adler produced at least two miniature music box books, this one, “The Nutcracker Suite” in 1977 and the one pictured in Bromer/Edison, “Christmas Carols” in 1985.


At 2 5/8 x 2 5/8 it is definitely a miniature book and the smallest musical movement I’ve seen. It has eleven pages, a red ribbon bookmark, and like all Kurt Adler books, a string loop to use as an ornament.

Hazeltine / Piso

I’m what some call a completeist collector. What they mean is that what ever area I choose to collect, I must not only have each title or edition of each title but every variant of each edition of each title or, a complete collection. I collect miniature books so that’s a lot. To lend some sanity to my collecting, I focus on a very specific area, complete that and then move on to another area. One of the collections I’m trying to complete now is that of the Hazeltine/Piso miniature almanacs and booklets.

Of the 71 known miniature booklets produced by the Piso Company from 1878 to 1918, I am lacking only 13. They are: of 41 almanacs, four, those for the years 1907, 1908, 1910, and 1918, plus the very rare 1880 German edition, of the 12 story books, two, “Testimonials” and “The Old Musician”, of the 10 half year calendars, 2, those for April 91- September 91, and October 93 – March 94 and of the 9 song booklets, 4, “Red, White and Blue”, “E. Plurubus Unum”, “Battle-Hymn of the Republic”, and “America”. If you happen to have any of these for sale, please let me know.

Next up for completion, Perhaps the nice Colgate calendars or the Duke cigarette Generals of the Civil War booklets.

Tribute to the Arts- Joint REM/Mosaic Book

Tribute to the Arts was the joint keepsake of Bob Massmann and Miriam Irwin for the Miniature Book Society conclave II in Boston in 1984. It is known as a peepshow book and is Bob’s second, Moby Dick Meets the Pequod being the first in 1968.


Here is the book with its slipcover.


Look through the peephole and extend the book according to the directions and you’ll be treated to a 3D scene at the symphony.


The structure that gives us this wonderful effect looks like this.

Interestingly, Bob chose not to include this one in his bibliography so it doesn’t show up in Bradbury either. REM did, however, sneak it into one of his alternate bibliographies, “Second Roster Of Lilliputia Spewed Out By Robert Massmann As Ephemera Not Previously Recorded Or Published Jointly With others” as entry #1 in 1990.

The Baltimore #11 Press

Here are a couple views of my first letterpress, a Baltimore #11. It was made by either by the J.F.W. Dorman Company or Baumgarten, both of Baltimore sometime between about 1885 and the early 1900’s.

Other than the rollers, which will need to be replaced, this press is in perfect working order. This view also shows my small box of dingbats, the only type I now possess.


It’s such a beautiful little press that if I never print a thing with it, I’ll still be glad I own it. Let’s hope it gets vigorous use soon though.

Miniature Books With Unusual Structure

Here are a couple of photos I used in a recent talk on miniature books. I used them to discuss abnormal book structures.


The books are, clockwise from the green book on the left: 1. Pequeno Press by Pat Baldwin 2. About Art published by Iron Bear Press 3. Quote by Robert Frost, published by Jan Becker 4. Collector’s Clean Sweep by Robert E. Massmann, published by REM Miniatures 5. Bibliography of REM Miniatures Fourth Supplement, also REM 6. Eight Maya Glyphs published by Eve Press.


Here we see them opened up. Most are variations on an accordion or concertina type structure except the REM Bibliography which is a triple dos-a-dos with a weird origami page fold, and Collector’s Clean Sweep which is a conventional book with a spine, but shaped like a broom.

Bookbinding, Take One- The Roycroft Suede Binding

To improve the quality of books at Booksby Press, I’ve begun to attend workshops on bookbinding technique, and hopefully in the future, letterpress printing. The first workshop on January 17th, taught a group of eight students how to make a book structure similar to that used by Elbert Hubbard and the Roycrofters.

A Brief History

Roycroft was a community of craftspeople in Western New York around the turn of the 20th century. Founded by Elbert Hubbard in 1895 when he couldn’t find a publisher for his book, “Little Journeys”, it became a major proponent of the Arts & Crafts movement in the United States. Borrowed from a quote by John Ruskin, the Roycroft creed states: “A belief in working with the head, hand and heart and mixing enough play with the work so that every task is pleasurable and makes for health and happiness.” It was this philosophy that gathered nearly 500 crafters in multiple disciplines to the community at its height in the first decade of the century. The community began its slow decline after Hubbard was lost on the Lusitania in 1915. The Roycroft Press produced one known miniature book in 1922, an edition of “A Message to Garcia” that measures 2 1/8″ x 1 5/8″. It was printed in an edition of 12.

The Workshop

Along with the history of the Roycrofters we were shown examples of original Roycroft and non-Roycroft bindings of varying qualities from the very good hand sewn bindings of Roycroft to other cheaper bindings that were simply stapled through the entire textblock and the cover slapped on with glue.
As this was a beginner level workshop, every step was discussed in detail, from preparing the textblock to embellishing the finished book. We learned how to fold pages into signatures using a bone folder and how to punch holes in the individual signatures to sew them together. We learned that a kettle stitch is used to lock the signatures together at the head and tail of the textblock and a French link stitch was used to join signatures in the center. When all the sewing was done, the textblock was pressed and the spine was gluedtogether, right over the sewing.
While this gluing was drying, we prepared the inner boards. , which consists of a piece of heavy cardstock and some decorative paper glued together. While the boards were drying, we attached the suede cover to the textblock with more glue. Lastly, we glued the inner boards to the covers, and we now had a finished book.
The workshop lasted six hours which gave us enough time to make a second book. For this one we discussed traditional Roycroft techniques such as embossing and paper labels as well as non-traditional though appropriate techniques like leather punching and embroidery, that are in the Roycroft spirit of handcraft. I chose an embossed design for my second book.
In addition, I was shown a simple pamphlet stitch, which will give even my booklets like “Book People” a more handcrafted look and will remove the stapler from my tool list.
All this was done, unfortunately, with one hand as I damaged my left hand at work in mid-December and it was completely immobilized beyond the wrist and nearly useless. I hope to be in much better shape fir the next workshop.


My two finished project books, the red one with embossed cover.


Here are the inner boards, the first with decorative printed papers and the second with book cloth similar to that used by the Roycroft Press.


The spine from the top. You can see the seven signatures sewn together.


I’m so excited by my newly acquired skills that I’ve already started on my next book. It will be a short collection of sayings entitled “Wise Man, Wise Guy”. It will measure 2 3/4″ x 2″ and be in a maroon suede with marbled inner boards. Look for it in the not too distant future in the store here.

The next bookbinding workshop will be Laced-in Paper Case Binding on February 21,2015 so stay tuned for what’s next!