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About the Helen Van Dyke Miniature Book Collection

Helen Van Dyke Miniature Book Collection Exhibit
September 2001
Mills Gallery
Central College
Pella, Iowa

Helen Van Dyke

Helen Van Dyke

During the summer of 1996, Central College staff received a call from Mrs. Helen Van Dyke of Newton, Iowa, asking if the College would like to have her collection of some two thousand miniature books for our library. We immediately arranged to meet Helen and to accept her generous gift. Although Mrs. Van Dyke had no previous connection to Central College, her late husband was born in Pella, and she spoke fondly of her visits to the community. As Central College’s library held the promise of a fine home for her beloved “little books,” she decided to contact us.

Helen received her first miniature book in 1975, as a gift from her sister Charlotte Smith, a miniature publisher and collector. From that moment, Helen became a serious miniature book collector and continued for the next 21 years. She frequented antique shows and second hand bookshops. She scoured the catalogs of Dawson’s Book Shop, Lorsen’s as well as the pages of the Miniature Book Society’s newsletters and publications, searching out books of interest to her. Helen kept extraordinary records of every acquisition, typing index cards that described each title, source of purchase, publisher, purchase date, condition and price. “I used up three typewriters in the course of my collecting days,” Helen told me, pointing to her faithful Royal portable. With such a detailed catalog, the work of inventorying and organizing the collection for the Central College Library Archives was made vastly easier.


L to R: Unknown, Unknown, Glen Dawson's Hungarians in the United States, Pearls, Bob Young's Just L.A.

Helen received her first miniature book in 1975, as a gift from her sister Charlotte Smith, a miniature publisher and collector. From that moment, Helen became a serious miniature book collector and continued for the next 21 years. She frequented antique shows and second hand bookshops. She scoured the catalogs of Dawson’s Book Shop, Lorsen’s as well as the pages of the Miniature Book Society’s newsletters and publications, searching out books of interest to her. Helen kept extraordinary records of every acquisition, typing index cards that described each title, source of purchase, publisher, purchase date, condition and price. “I used up three typewriters in the course of my collecting days,” Helen told me, pointing to her faithful Royal portable. With such a detailed catalog, the work of inventorying and organizing the collection for the Central College Library Archives was made vastly easier.

Miniature books can be traced to the 13th and 14th centuries, before the invention of printing, when text was handwritten and pictures were painted on pages measuring about 3 by 1 7/8 inches. With the development of the printing press, thinner paper and smaller typefaces, the number of miniature books published increased during the centuries that followed. Little books served very practical purposes, holding information in easily portable and compact spaces. Nobles, nuns, priests, students and laypersons found it easier to travel with miniature books tucked into pockets or attached to girdles and belts. Printers enjoyed the challenge of making miniature books with extravagant bindings of tortoise shell, leather, sterling silver, embroidery, and vellum. The classic miniature book is about 3-by-3inches and can be read with the naked eye. The Guinness Book of World Records listed Ian McDonald’s 1 millimeter copy of Old King Cole as the “smallest book in the world.” According to a report in the March 1998, Miniature Book News, Anatoli Konenko of Omsk, Russia challenged that record with his miniature version of Chekov’s Hameleon. It measures .9 millimeter by .9 millimeter, and must be read with a 30-power magnifying glass!


L to R: Marvin Hiemstra's Redwood Burl, Golden Vase, Carol Cunningham's Masks

Helen Van Dyke’s collection includes pieces dating from as early as 1844 to 1996. Exhibit visitors will be intrigued by examples of children’s books, almanacs, foreign language pieces, classics, religious works, advertisements, propaganda, micro-minis, and more. Representative works from contemporary America’s most well-known miniature book publishers including Hillside, Junipero Serra, Juniper Von Phitzer, Robert Massmann, Achille J. St. Onge, Schori, Somesuch, and Tamazunchale will delight the eye. A special section features our “Collector’s Choice,” selected by Mrs. Van Dyke from among her favorites.

The Helen Van Dyke Miniature Book collection is making invaluable contributions to our students and faculty who are doing research in the art of book making, creative writing, the genre of miniature books and the study of history and literature. In an era direly predicting the end of the book, this marvelous collection returns us to the enduring value of print on paper.

(A special celebration was held in the Mills Gallery with Helen Van Dyke, Saturday, September 22, 2001.)


Clockwise from left: Robert Penn Warren's Six Poems, The Lord of the Ilses, C. L. Helbert Ecce Littera, Sir Winston S. Churchill: Honorary Citizen of the United States of America, Piso Almanac 1899


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