The 17th Century Kindle

Book Open

It took a photo and a snippet of an article yesterday to reinforce to me the precious nature of the written word. In recent times the written word is fighting for our attention in so many forms; there are not many moments a day when we are free from the tidal wave of information, articles, stories, newsfeeds. Consider this then, the world’s first Kindle.

That is how the Jacobean travel-library has been described by the librarian at the University of Leeds. Created in 1617 the library of 50 miniature books are encased in a wooden box which itself resembles one large book. Once the box is opened three shelves are revealed, carrying books ranging from history, poetry and philosophy/theology.

With each word typeset by hand, each page hand-printed and hung to dry individually, the precious nature of every single word is highlighted. Today it is cheap and easy to type a word, which leads to a sentence, which leads to a story. Then press print and the copy is in our hands. To have a book bound costs slightly more but the workmanship is not labour intensive.

These 50 miniature books are bound in soft vellum with fabric ties. Furthermore the spine of each book is gold-tooled with a wreath and flower and the covers of each are adorned with a gilt angel holding a scroll which engraved with the words ‘Gloria Deo’, meaning ‘Glory to God Alone’.

50 BooksBook Being Held

The folio-style box is bound in brown turkey leather and ornately decorated on the inner leaf with the catalogue written in gold on blue vellum set into three painted cathedral arches and columns.

This 17th Century travel-library was the only manner large amounts of literature could be transported on trips for the discerning Jacobean traveller.  Without disruption from tablets, computers, mobile phones the traveller could recline at leisure to read uninterrupted one of the books.

Big Book ClosedOne book open

The collection is a true rarity and as a University of Leeds graduate I am proud they have managed to acquire one of the four in existence. The acquisition was made possible by funding of £1.3 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The remaining three miniature libraries are held at the British Library, the Huntington Library California, and the Toledo Museum of Art Ohio.

The first collection was commissioned by the MP William Hakewill as a gift to a friend and within five years he asked for a further three collections to be made, which were then given to friends as presents.


I read about the above in ‘L.Leeds’ Alumni Magazine. Issue 16. Winter 2014-2015. This article itself was previously covered in ‘Daily Mail’ and US ‘Slate’. The photographs were sourced from the ‘Daily Mail’ online.

There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth… not going all the way, and not starting.


13 thoughts on “The 17th Century Kindle

  1. bsidebaby says:

    Hello Annika! Surprise! Thought I would look you up after having lost contact with you for so long 😦 and what do I find but your blog 🙂 Fascinating that you are writing and how funny that a year after setting up my own online rare bookshop I too am writing my first book 🙂 We have so much in common. Hope you remember me – Sarah Goundry? X

    • Annika Perry says:

      Hi Sarah and of course I remember you!😀 Exciting news about your writing and bookshop – this post must have been right up your street? Hope you and family are all well. If you want catch up more I’m sure you have my email address. Lovely to hear from you.

  2. Mirja says:

    Thank you for this wonderful post. This almost
    400 year old ‘Kindle’ made with care, patience and
    You make me want to go there and just see them and
    wonder of wonder – be allowed to hold one.
    Your posting really makes us more aware.
    Love the photos and the quote too

    • Annika says:

      Mirja, Thank you. The books are in very good condition, amazing when you consider their age. The books will be on show, although under glass I’d imagine.

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