August 2016 | Rebecca Rego Barry

Thumb Bibles

I can't put my finger on why, but I like "thumb bible" as a bibliographic term. Which is why I was delighted to see a selection of them slated for auction next week at PBA Galleries.

What is a thumb bible? In short, it is a condensed version of the bible, printed in a miniature format (less than 3"), popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The phrase may derive from a French edition, Bible du Petit Poucet, published c. 1800. Typically thumb bibles feature some illustration, however crude, as they were made to appeal to children.

Proffered within a collection of 500 miniature books from the Lilliput Oval Saloon of Tokyo, here are a few neat examples of thumb bibles:

66.jpgLot 66: A bible in English, printed in London in 1775 and bound in period full calf. This copy retains twelve of the original fourteen plates. The estimate is $600-900.

69.jpgLot 69: A 256-page miniature bible printed in London in 1780 and bound in period olive green morocco, complete with all fourteen engraved plates. The estimate is $1,000-1,500.

73.jpgLot 73: This thumb bible, printed in Coventry c. 1795 and bound in period full sheep, is "scarce," according to PBA. The estimate is $700-1,000.