Historian Dr. Kristen Howard grins as she flips through an English-Yiddish dictionary the length of her thumb at the Jewish Public Library in Montreal, one in a large collection of miniature books that will be on display in May.
“Oh my gosh there’s so many reasons why they’re so special,” she exclaimed.
More than 1,000 volumes were donated by Lily Toth, who arranged to have them given to the library upon her death.
Toth, a Holocaust survivor, passed away in May 2021 at 96.
Before her death, Eddie Paul, senior director of library and learning services, saw the collection for the first time.
“I was blown away by them,” he told Global News. “I’d seen miniature books, like one here, one there. But an entire room? I’d never seen anything like it.”
Howard, who is cataloguing the books, notes that this collection is remarkable and is among the smallest books that have ever existed.
“There are Bibles and books with Bible verses that are several hundred years old,” she noted. “There are lots more recent books, which collectors call mass market minis.”
Howard added there are books of poetry, fine literature, children’s literature, cook books and even an English-Yiddish dictionary from the early 1900’s
“You could put it in your pocket if you’re walking around, and you can’t remember the English word (or) the Yiddish word and you want to communicate,” she said.
There’s also a collection of the works of Shakespeare.
Perhaps the smallest book in the collection though, is an ultra micro-miniature book of the Lord’s prayer, written in seven languages measuring less than five millimetres.
According to Howard, nowadays people buy miniature books for artistic reasons and collectors are rare.
It’s why library staff were surprised to learn of another collector, Toth’s friend Daisy Gross, also a Holocaust survivor.
“I love books,” she said from a room in her home where she has small bookcases stacked with some of the 1,300 miniature books she says she has. “I read a lot, and I enjoy reading. It takes me to a different world each time I read.”
Gross doesn’t know what will happen to her collection when she passes.
“That’s not my problem,” she laughed. “It’s up to my children.”
She hasn’t ruled out donating them to the library.