While trying to describe the size of an unusually small book found in Special Collections and Archives at the Merrill-Cazier Library, Alexa Sand takes a long minute to look around for something with similar proportions.
“It’s truly tiny,” says Sand, an art history professor and associate vice president for research. “About the size of a charging block for your iPhone. So, it’s really little.”
At just 37 millimeters by 31 millimeters, the diminutive book certainly looks like something more fitting for a dollhouse. But it’s a facsimile of a manuscript known as the Psalter of Saint Ruprecht, which is believed to have been produced in the third quarter of the 9th century.
The original psalter — a volume that includes the Book of Psalms from the Old Testament — is housed at St. Peter’s Abbey in Salzburg, Austria, and is one of the smallest books in the world remaining from the Middle Ages. The individual letters are no more than 1.5 mm high spaced only around 1.2 mm apart.
Jennifer Duncan, USU’s interim dean of libraries and rare book curator, says that Utah State students find the miniature psalter “charming” when they have a chance to see and handle it. “They love the small things, and it also lets us talk about how personal these devotional items are,” she says. “And students are very interested in thinking about the connection between an object and individual.”
A companion piece to the library’s replica of the Psalter of Saint Ruprecht is another book that is significantly larger — 103 mm by 74 mm, close to the size of a deck of cards. However, this psalter is authentic, and was likely produced on vellum (prepared animal skin) around 1270 for the Diocese of Liège in what is now Belgium. It is referred to as the Liège Hours, with “hours” referencing the eight set times a day that monks or nuns would gather to recite prayers.
The university purchased it from a rare book dealer about 10 years ago. And while it is difficult to open fully due to it being tightly rebound long ago, the small psalter is adorned with a number of colorful illuminations, some displaying scenes such as the betrayal of Christ and King David in prayer.
“As a medievalist, the resources we have here at Utah State are great for my research,” Sand notes. “But what is more exciting is that if we can have students touching and handling items and putting on exhibitions with these objects, they get so much more excited about art history, museum studies, and archival work by doing rather than just sitting in a classroom.
“It’s like the difference between teaching chemistry with a lab and teaching chemistry without a lab,” Sand adds. “It’s really hard to produce chemists if they’ve never been in a lab.”