Skip to content

News & Events

A Tiny Gift of History

University of Tennessee Special Collections Library Acquires Miniature Literature

The Special Collections Library at the University of Tennessee has acquired a copy of the miniature book Orphan Willie, a story of a young boy who grows up to fight in the Union Army during the Civil War. Published in 1862, the book is 64 pages long and measures just over two inches tall and an inch and-a-half wide.

Miniature books, books that are smaller than three inches, are both a curiosity and a subject of serious scholarship. Miniature manuscripts occur throughout the history of human record keeping. Cuneiform tablets in miniature were in use as early as 4000 B.C.

Orphan Willie was published in Buffalo by Breed, Butler and Company and written by Frances Elizabeth Barrow. Barrow published under the pseudonyms “Aunt Laura” and “Aunt Fanny,” and wrote a number of children’s books with moral and religious themes. Nearly all of Barrow’s publications were printed as miniatures. The Special Collections Library purchased the book in the spring of 2007 from eBay.

Printing in miniature is technically challenging, and miniature books were often produced to display the techniques of the bookmakers. In the letterpress era, this ranged from designing type, cutting punches, casting type, and developing paper and inks suitable for use with them.

Miniature books sometimes provided the medium for sensitive subject matter because they are easily concealed. The book will be of interest to scholars of publishing history, children’s literature, the Civil War, and the Victorian era.

Only 11 other institutions own copies of Orphan Willie, including the Indiana University, the University of Virginia, and the University of Texas-Austin libraries. This portable treasure is now cataloged and available for use at the Special Collections Library, in the historic James D. Hoskins Library at the University of Tennessee. Visit for more information.

Aaron Purcell, Special Collections Library, (865) 974-3674
Nick Wyman, Special Collections Library, (865) 974-4480

Share this:

The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System and partner in the Tennessee Transfer Pathway.