Reading Time at HSNY: All Books Great and Small

By Dr. Miranda Marraccini

This post is part of a series, Reading Time at HSNY, written by HSNY’s librarian, Miranda Marraccini.

When it comes to watches, they come in all sizes. Bigger is not necessarily better. There are dainty dials, shining with miniature detail above equally minute movements, marvels of micromechanics. There are huge slabs that look like they need their own checked luggage tags. And there are medium-sized watches that try to be all things to all people–as ubiquitous as a Toyota Camry.

The same goes for books. Today I’ll share with you some of the biggest and smallest specimens in the HSNY library. Some are so large they could be used as solar shades (if we weren’t concerned about UV damage to the books) while others could be smuggled in your cheek.

The big books in the library were easy for me to find because, well, they announce their presence. They’re the Panerais in the room, beefy, all-around chonks. If you’re a librarian who works with them, you can go ahead and skip arm day. In image 1, you can see a selection of our biggest books, with two 750 mL bottles for scale. Their publication dates range from 1765 to 2023.

One prominent, incredibly unwieldy book in our collection is J. P. Morgan’s catalog of watches (the red book in image 1). This might sound familiar, because the name J. P. Morgan is even more omnipresent in American life than a Toyota Camry. Morgan, a financier, was a collector of many things, not just clocks and watches–a visit to the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City will give you a sense of the scale of his collection of rare books, fine art, gems, and other objects. Morgan donated his watches to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1913, where they remain to this day. We have a copy of Morgan’s illustrated collection catalog.

Morgan produced a very limited number of hand-colored editions of this catalog printed on vellum and finished with bits of real gold. One of these copies sold in 2012 for $26,000, and you can see a few pictures of the sumptuous illustrations here. In our library, we have a more modest facsimile in black and white, but even the facsimile is quite a rare book. Pound for pound, it’s also one …read more      

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