Link -- Article by M. Christian of "Meine Kleine Fabrik" and Avi Abrams

We touched on some very unusual and mystifying books before, and even showcased books that's been cut in little pieces for the sake of art - but today we've got a visual treat for you: rare and incredibly precious books... sometimes so unusual in presentation that it makes them impossible to read!

A tribute to Erich Kästner, Dresden (photo by Caruso); a Pocket Library of Lilliputian Folio Books, 1801

Illuminated manuscripts: a true light in the Middle Ages

Some of the earliest unusual books have got to be the celebrated illuminated manuscripts. First created in such places as Ireland, Constantinople, and Italy by amazingly diligent monks, illuminated manuscripts reached their height in the Middle Ages. Very difficult to create, and so very expensive, they were mostly created as “altar Bibles” for churches or cathedrals or for very wealthy patrons.

What’s fascinating about illuminated manuscripts, beyond their elegant and beautiful craft, is that often the text was almost neglected for the artwork, which explains why many illuminated Bibles contain simple typographical mistakes.

"Minute Book" a rare 13th century book in Gulbenkian Museum in Lisboa, Portugal - image via

Ornamental Turkish illuminated manuscript - image via

Fragment of the "Book of Hours", c. 1423 and "Medieval Scribes" mural - sources 1 , 2

This is the medieval calendar (for the month of August) - I wish Google would make that theme available for their calendar (illuminated gothic):

(image credit: Renzo Dionigi)

Mythical beasts abounded in illustrations:

"Sea Serpent in the Sea of Darkness" from 1555 - images via

Sometimes the letters themselves were turned into fearsome beasts by the scribes:

Perugia Scribe Mannual, c.1600 - via

There is a photo group on Flickr, devoted to illuminated Medieval manuscripts - see here.

With the advent of Guttenberg and his press, as well as the immense cost and workmanship required to create illuminated manuscripts, the market for them dropped off. But that didn’t stop other artisans from creating works less beautiful yet still extraordinary in their right.

The World’s Largest Book

Take, for example, the book that’s in Mandalay, Myanmar (which used to be called Burma), specifically the Kuthodaw Pagoda. Guttenberg is commonly considered to be the man responsible for bringing cheap, affordable books to the European masses, but King Mindon of Myanmar didn’t have portability in mind when he commissioned the creation of his book in the middle of the 19th century. His Tipitaka Pali canon of Theravada Buddhism is the world’s largest book, and it’s not going anywhere -- each page, and there are 1460 of them, are marble, with the lettering done in gold.

(images credit: José Rodrigues)

Alas, in the late 1800s, the British invaded and much of the pagoda’s treasures -- including the book -- were damaged or stolen. But, fortunately, the structure has been restored, as much as possible, and the world’s largest book is still on display in all its non-paperback, non-portable majesty.

A Book Smaller Than a Grain of Salt

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the copy of Chekhov's Chameleon owned by the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati. This special edition isn’t preserved against invaders, looters, or erosion, but instead a stray breeze: at .9 by .9 (that’s millimeters, by the way), the book has been authenticated by Guinness as being the world’s smallest. Just to give you an idea how small .9 by .9 millimeters is, next to this Chameleon, a kernel of corn is like a mountain: the book is about the size of a grain of salt.

However, this article claims that the physicists at the nano imaging laboratory of Simon Fraser University in Canada have created an even smaller book - "Teeny Ted from Turnip Town" at 0.07mm x 0.10mm. Apparently, this book is for sale: anybody can buy a copy for about $20,000 - but you'll have to use the electron microscope to read it or even to notice it at all.

(image via)

These books at some point were... alive

But if you want to talk about weird, you have to connect these three words: KISS (the rock band), Marvel (the comic book publisher) and human blood. If you happen to own a copy of KISS’s Super Special comic book, published in 1977, then you own more than just a mediocre promotional gimmick. You actually own a tiny amount of Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley, Peter Criss, and Paul Stanley: namely their blood, which the foursome had extracted and was subsequently added to the ink used to print the comic.

To stay on this somewhat morbid topic, there’s an anatomy book in the possession of Brown University that’s more than just a book detailing how the human body’s put together. In fact there are two weird things about this particular book. The first oddity is that while the cover might feel and look like fine leather it didn’t come from a cow -- it came from a human being.

"The Prosthetics Armor" by Hieronymus Fabricius, 1684, and a wonderful Book Wheel, 1719 - via

The second odd -- and more than a bit creepy -- thing about this anatomy book bound in some person’s skin is that it isn’t at all rare. In fact many prestigious universities, museums, and certain private collectors have books also made from human skin. Mostly made from criminals or people too poor to afford a burial, the practice was fairly common in the 1800s... Think about that when picking up a next volume in University's library.

A Title Makes the Book

These are winners of the Bookseller/Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year

"Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice"

"The Madam as Entrepreneur: Career Management in House Prostitution"

"The Theory of Lengthwise Rolling"

"How to Avoid Huge Ships"

"People Who Don't Know They're Dead: How They Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It"

"The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification" - this might even come useful...

"If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start with Your Legs" - words of wisdom.

"Highlights in the History of Concrete" - give this as a gift to your mother-in-law, see how she enjoys it.

And of course, you might have missed the biggest discovery in archaeological research: it turns out Egyptians were a bit more social, and perhaps even used Facebook -

(image via)


Also Read:
Bittersweet Art of Cutting up Books

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Category: Art,Vintage


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marvel has published at least one more book that used human remains - specifically, using the cremated ashes of one of Marvel's more respected writers and editors, Mark Gruenwald.

More detail here (though a Google search including "Squadron Supreme", the book's title, should turn up plenty of results):


And BTW, I have that edition. Because I am just that awesome/creepy.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Ornamental Turkish illuminated manuscript". Really fantastic art design for a book.

Thanks for the picture and source.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Being made into a book - what a fantastic thought! I cant think of a better post-death fate (though hey - i am a writer). Just imagine it - instead of a dreary old lump of gray tombstone, an actual book with stories that people can read. Fantastic. I wonder if it is possible (legally i mean) to do that these days? And what sort of hoops you would have to jump through to do it?

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fantastic irrelevant and ignorant comment i've ever read :D


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