Thursday, May 9, 2013

Tiny Books with big Memories

When I was young my Grandmother died, and I was given a set of books she had owned.  Grammy had come from Leeds, Yorkshire, England as a teenager, and so I always thought these unusual little books were something she had brought with her from England. They were extremely small, and I had fantasized that she had packed them with her few belongings during her immigration through Ellis Island in 1915.

However, the truth is just as interesting as my day dreams.  Just last week I receive an email from Abe Books in Victoria, British Columbia.  This is a company that deals in old books, and I especially like using their website to search for old local histories and genealogy books.   This email featured a story about “The Little Leather Library”.  I was surprised to see in their brief description that the books were published in New York.  I ran down cellar to look at my little books, and sure enough, they were the same “Little Leather Library” books published in the USA, not England as I had previously believed.

Of course, years ago, I could have opened up any of the books to see that inside the cover it said “New York”, but as a teenager I was too busy reading the contents to look at the title pages.  There are 28 little books in my collection, and the story at Abe Books said that there were 101 titles plus the Bible in 30 volumes. My collection includes The Holy Grail by Tennyson and The Importance of Being Ernest by Oscar Wilde- both were favorites of mine when I was younger.  But there are also American classics like Longfellow’s Hiawatha, The Raven by Poe, and Memories of President Lincoln by Walt Whitman.  

I took a look at the prices on Abe Book’s website, and they ranged from about $7.50 to over $75 for each little book.  A complete boxed set with the Bible in 30 little volumes was for sale for $1,500 on eBay.  That is amazing to me since they are tiny, with very dark, cheap leatherette covers and brittle paper.  They are not fine leather and expensive paper, like their name sounds.  Each book is about 3” x 4”.   Woolworth’s used to sell them for ten cents each.  Wikipedia reports that in 1917 Woolworth’s ordered over 1 million copies, so they must have been popular.

I don’t know now if these books were my Grandmother or Grandfather’s.  I wish I had known about them when they were alive, but I never had the chance to ask them.  In fact, I never saw these books until I was given them after Grammy’s death. They could have belonged to either grandparent, since they were all published between 1916 to 1923.  My Grandparents weren't married until 1926 in Beverly, Massachusetts. 
Even so, I still cherish these little books!

Abe Books

Little Leather Corporation article at Wikipedia

Copyright 2013, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. I remember reading some of those little books as a child. Sadly my collections along with most of our other family records and heirlooms were lost in one of three fires that had taken our family homes over the years.

  2. Heather, nice to look at these again. My grandmother had a collection of about 15 - they come in all colors. I was familiar with what you've written except for the 10 cents at Woolworth part, I had never heard that, but it makes a lot of sense. I suspect these were "all the rage" during the late 1910's or early 20's. I can easily see grandma buying one or two at a time. An affordable luxury. For the rest of her life, she kept them on a writing desk that my grampa won for her in a sales contest at work. I strongly suspect these belonged to your female ancestor, not male. I agree with you that they are not of quality construction and so people should enjoy them if they have them, they won't last forever. I suppose for people like you and I, Heather, they are mostly valued for our memories of the owners.

  3. This story lifts my heart. Since I'm a literature person, I'm overjoyed to know that people value books so much, even tiny books. In miniature, here are samples of Tennyson. Wilde, Longfellow, Poe, and Whitman. Precious!

    John Milton said this: "A good book is the life-blood of a master spirit."

    Hm, maybe "compressed" literature is more powerful than long-winded literature. Like a powder keg. Or something.

    When I was tiny, I read "Little Golden Books." They weren't the classics. They were animal stories. But I loved them.

  4. I've just acquired a wonderful Little Leather Library copy of Whitman's Memories of President Lincoln. I love Whitman, and would greatly appreciate any info on LLL!

    1. This is all I know about the Little Leather Library books. Like me, you can try a Google search to see the value of your little Whitman book. Or ask a book seller of antique books.