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  Small Wonders

Johns Hopkins University is a huge institution, filled with big buildings, big people, big ideas. But there are small wonders here, too — little things from the university's vast special collections that deserve notice for their uniqueness and tiny beauty.

By Maria Blackburn
Photos by Mike Ciesielski

Tiny books, like these from the John Work Garrett Library at Hopkins' Evergreen House, showed off a printer's talents as well as a reader's devotion to books. Miniature books, defined as those measuring 10 centimeters or less, were especially popular as novelties in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Above: the diminutive 2-point type of A Letter from Galileo to Madame Christina di Lorena (Padua, 1896). Right: The gold-embossed paper serves as the cover of Galileo's letter.

The smallest English dictionary in the world, shown in lower-right corner, was designed to be worn as a locket (Glasgow, 1890s); the ornate beaded cover of The Book of Hours dedicated to the Dauphin (Paris, 1755).

The type in the Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments (New York, 1896), is so small the book came with its own magnifying glass.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Japanese used interlocking boxes called inro to carry writing seals and medicinal herbs. Left: Two 19th-century inro, each less than eight-and-a-half centimeters high, from the Garrett Collection at Evergreen House show a riverside landscape (left) and a man throwing peas to exorcise two imps, or oni.

Right: Netsuke, the toggles tied to an inro's silk cord, are intricately carved ivory and wood sculptures. This 19th-century ivory example, just under three centimeters high, shows an oni watching a Deva King play the game Go.

Phrenology, the study of human cranial structures popular in the 19th century, was based on the idea that the brain was the source of human character and that features of the skull could serve as a guide to personality. These plaster phrenology busts from the Institute of the History of Medicine in East Baltimore were made in 1831 by William Bally under the supervision of Johann Caspar Spurzheim (1786-1832), one of the founders of phrenology. Sets of 55 nine-centimeter-high busts were probably available for sale during Spurzheim's American lecture tour in 1832, along with a pamphlet containing explanations of the individual features of each numbered bust.

The Archaeological Collection at Homewood features Greco-Roman, Egyptian, and ancient American artifacts. Above: In the foreground is a nine-centimeter ceramic female figure from Jalisco, West Mexico (300 B.C.-A.D. 200), which would have been placed in a tomb. Behind it is the bust of a carved limestone Egyptian figure that may have been part of a miniature coffin.

Shabtis were inscribed with the names and titles of the deceased and placed in Egyptian tombs. Measuring less than 20 centimeters, they were made of faience, stone, wood, metal, or glass. Their brilliant green and blue glazes were meant to evoke fertility and rebirth. Shabtis were used in Egypt from the Old Kingdom through the Ptolemaic Period (2686 B.C.-30 B.C.).

A ceramic ballplayer from Colima, West Mexico (300 B.C.-A.D. 200), wears a helmet and protective padding for a game involving the high speed volley of a hard rubber ball. A shabti stands in the background.

These 37 glass medicine jars, each about 11-and-a-half centimeters high, came from pharmacies in Boston, New York, and even Egypt. They are kept in this leather-covered wooden medicine chest, which is at the Institute of the History of Medicine in East Baltimore. The 19th-century piece belonged to Henry Barton Jacobs, physician to Robert Garrett, a former faculty member at Hopkins and hospital trustee.

Return to November 2004 Table of Contents

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