The smallest Shakespeares in the Folger collection

Visitors to the Folger vault frequently ask: What’s the largest item in the collection? The oldest?  The most valuable?  But it’s the collection’s smaller items that often reveal the most extraordinary craftsmanship. Here we look at the smallest Shakespeare items, a book and a pin.

Henry Altemus’ magnificently miniature copy of The Children’s Shakespeare by Edith Nesbit is the Folger’s smallest Shakespeare edition. Published in 2005, it’s an abridged replica of the edition published by Altemus in 1900.

Smallest Shakespeare items in the Folger collection

Altemus shrunk the book to 23 millimeters—you would need 677,005 copies of it to equal the size of the collection’s largest item, James Northcote’s 9 x 11-foot painting of the tomb scene from Romeo and Juliet!

James Northcote painting
The James Northcote painting of Romeo and Juliet, being prepared for hanging in the Paster Reading Room in 2010.

But for the smallest Shakespeare image in the collection, we turn to a pin. The portrait on this Shakespeare stickpin is less than one centimeter wide. Nearly unmatched for its detail and scale, the stickpin portrait is even smaller than it appears, since a convex coating of enamel magnifies the minutiae of the work.

Smallest Shakespeare items in the Folger collection
Shakespeare stickpin. Enamel, 19th-20th Century. Folger Shakespeare Library.

How many Shakespeares can you fit on a pin head? The Folger collection shows us at least one, but to see him you’ll need a magnifying glass.

A modified version of this blog post, written by Alan Katz, originally appeared in the Summer 2012 issue of Folger Magazine.

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