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Ransom Center receives collection of miniature books

By Ryan Hildebrand

The Ransom Center recently received a gift of more than 60 miniature books from printer, collector, and aficionado Duane Scott, proprietor of the Scott Free Press. The gift includes books Scott printed under his Scott Free Press imprint, as well as examples published by others such as Achille J. St. Onge, The Press of the Indiana Kid, Arm and Hammer Press, Black Cat Press, The Hillside Press, and Tabula Rasa Press. Scott’s gift is a substantial addition to the Ransom Center’s collection of miniature books.

In But, Why Tabula Rasa? John Lathourakis ponders “What makes a somewhat normal person get into an activity as insane as miniature books? Some say it is a form of self-punishment for transgressions too base to describe; others merely look at miniature book people as simple souls who are normal in every respect except that they were born brainless. I have a less clinical approach. Simply stated, printers and publishers of miniature books are possessed people whose every waking moment is spent trying to solve unsolvable problems.”

Latourakis’s diagnosis may be somewhat correct for Scott, as he was drawn to miniature books in part because they are difficult to execute well. On his visit to the Ransom Center he talked about the seemingly impossible tasks of aligning a page’s front and back during printing, setting miniscule pieces of type by hand, and the general difficulties of working on a very small scale. In bookwork, a diminutive format amplifies difficulty because one’s tools stay the same size, while the object to which they are applied is no bigger than 3 inches, and often much smaller. A well-done miniature book showcases the craftsperson’s ability; a poorly executed book highlights his or her failings. Scott’s miniature books belong in the former category.

Scott had another reason for becoming a printer of miniature books. Years ago, while already a letterpress printer, he met another printer specializing in the genre. Scott admired the printer’s work, but the printer refused to sell his books; he would only trade for another miniature book. So, Scott printed his first miniature book, Mark Twain’s How I Edited an Agricultural Paper, in order to have an item for trade.

Scott’s books are all completely handmade, from the setting of the tiny six-point type, to the binding, and of course, the printing. In some cases, he also made his own paper. His 1984 publication, Henrik Ibsen’s Nora Awakened: A Portion of a Doll’s House was published in an edition of 250 copies, with 100 of them printed on 100-percent rag paper made from old cotton shirts, handkerchiefs, sheets, and pillow cases. Another of Scott’s books, Oriental Sayings, used paper made from denim. His daughter Caroline recalls, “He put out the word to the family to save our old cotton, and when we went to visit, we would haul along any worn-out clothes and linens.” Scott processed the pulp in an Umpherston beater and formed the sheets himself.

The topical matter of Scott’s collection is broad. The writings of Mark Twain are oft repeated, as are excerpts from other well-known authors such as Robert Frost and Henrik Ibsen. As expected, many of the books are concerned with printing, the book arts, and book collecting, including two books on miniature bookplates and type and paper specimen books. A book on Gutenberg contains a miniature facsimile leaf of the Gutenberg Bible, and a work on Ottmar Merganthaler (inventor of the Linotype machine) contains a Linotype circulating matrix. Perhaps the frustrations associated with printing miniature books incline their makers toward humor, as many of the books are quite funny, or at least take a very light-hearted tone. I can’t close this post without mentioning two of the more humorous works in Scott’s collection: What Men Know About Women by A. Mann, which is entirely blank inside, and the humorous and racy Shaggy Dog Story, a story about a dog named Sex.


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Rachel Scott

A wonderful description, Ryan.
Well done!

The Kenspeckle Letterpress

Very nice! Congratulations on a fine acquisition.


Pretty great.

Chris Jones

I would love to see a mini exhibit of the HRC miniature books.


Rachel, I am glad it pleases. Thank you for all of your assistance in this!

Kimberly Molitor

Congratulations on the acquisition. Great things come in small packages! I agree, an exhibit would be terrific.I travel to your area occasionally.

annie parker

lovely to see you have one of my late stepfathers books in your collection and a picture of it featured in the slide show….Action on the North Atlantic. I myself have a goodly sized collection of his miniatures and “normal” sized copies of them. Well done in acquiring such a collection. Have you any more of his works.. Press of the Indiana Kid. Yours
Annie Parker from a chilly Doncaster England

Ryan Hildebrand

Hi Annie,

We have only a handful of Press of the Indiana Kid titles. I wish the number was higher, as I’ve seen and admired your stepfather’s work in other repositories. In addition to Action on the North Atlantic, we also hold The Weygand Tightwad Beater; Ex-Libris Minimus; The Issue of the Tissue; and A Solar Printing Press, 1878. The latter three also came with the collection described in this post. Additionally, we have a copy of the University of Notre Dame Library’s Catalogue of an Exhibit on the Private Press of the Indiana Kid. Thanks for the note!

Karen Crowther

So glad to see the Ransom Center accepting and appreciating such a precious collection. Are they looking to build the collection with other donations of miniature books? I have a small collection of about 20 miniature books I would love to donate to a worthy recipient.

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