A thumb Bible is an abridged version of the Bible printed in miniature form to appeal to children who were not old enough to read the full-length Bible. The bibles were typically less than three inches tall and containing 100-300 pages, and often containing simple woodcut engravings. The term was coined by British publisher Longman and Co. in 1849, referring to the midget Tom Thumb (actual name, Charles Stratton) who was part of P.T. Barnum’s circus show.
An Agnus Dei, written by John Weever, was the first thumb Bible published in verse form in London in 1601. Weever’s bible was truly miniature, measuring 1.1 by 1.3 inches, containing 128 pages of six lines of verse. Biblia or A Practical Summary of ye Old & New Testaments published in London in 1727 was the first thumb Bible written in prose. This edition measured 0.9 by 1.4 inches, containing 300 pages. The earliest known thumb Bible printed in America was American Thumb Bible (1765) written by John Taylor. Taylor summarizes the intent of all thumb Bible writers: “With care and pains out of the Sacred book, / This little Abstract for thee have took: / And with great reverence have I cull’d from thence, / All things that are of Greatest consequence.”
Thumb Bibles were very popular in Europe and continued to be printed throughout the nineteenth century. Book experts estimate that there are more than 300 editions existing today. Recently a collection of 500 miniature books from the Lilliput Oval Saloon of Tokyo are being put up for auction. The various editions are estimated to fetch from $600 to $1,500 each.
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For further reading: Miniature Books: 4,000 Years of Tiny Treasures by Anne Bromer and Julian Edison (2007)