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.

37 thoughts on “The 17th Century Kindle

  1. WOW. You share the most incredible things, Annika, and it always blows my mind. Thank goodness there are people out there with the patience and love needed to care for these treasures. They just don’t make things like they used to! Great post, my friend!

    1. Tanya, wouldn’t this be the best job!! To care for these old books and learn all about them! 😀 I’m so glad you liked the post – it’s a delight to find these gems to post about. This definitely beats a Kindle, eh? Precious beyond words and money!😀

  2. Oh! What a lovely post, Annika! I totally am in love with this portable precious library filled with miniature books – what a true piece art and devotion! I love books in all manners, but old ones, and I mean really old ones, are something so special and to be valued. Thank you so much for inviting to read this favorite post of yours in your latest one! Hugs! xxxxx

    1. Sarah, thank you so much for your wonderful and warm comment – your love of these books shines through! 😀 Yes, they are a work of art and I too am in awe of the love and devotion in their creation and also how well-looked after they’ve been in the centuries since. Wouldn’t it be amazing to hold one… oh well, we can but dream! 😀

  3. Wow. I can’t imagine the work that went into creating that. What a labor of love. I’m so glad you shared this post again, Annika. I hadn’t seen it the first time around. Fascinating and truly magical. 🙂

    1. Wow, indeed, Diana!! 😀 These are definitely a labour of love and that really brings home how precious the written word it – and how hungry they were for literature even whilst travelling. So many stories of where these books might have been … and we will never know! 😀

  4. Annika, this is a wonderful story that highlights how precious books are, and that the ability to hold a book in our hands (especially if it’s a digital book) is a relatively recent gift. Your description of the miniature library opens a tiny window into seventeenth century life, as to what was considered precious then. To me, still precious.

    I live a short distance from the Huntington Library, and though I’ve visited in past years, it’s now on my short list of places to go soon. How fortunate that you alerted me to a treasure in my backyard.

    1. Sharon, I’m so happy to have offered this reminder to you about your own local treasures!

      The work, love and care into creating this travel library is incredible and yes, precious on so many levels. It was an article I thoroughly enjoyed researching and sharing … and over the moon it reaches a wider audience now.

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  7. What a wonderful, very expensive way of carrying your reading matter around. The bright blue of the vellum is still amazingly intense after all this time, and the colour offsets the blandness of the book bindings. Great, informative post. 🙂

    1. How lovely that you should come across this post, one written within my first couple of months of blogging and which I’d forgotten! 😀 I remember also being taken with the this mobile library, and the blue is lusciously beautiful. So glad you liked it. Thank you for your great comment.

  8. bsidebaby

    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

    1. 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.

  9. Mirja

    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

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