“In Miniature” by Simon Garfield
c.2018, Atria Books; $25.00 / $34.00 Canada; 336 pages
Baby’s socks and kitten’s ears.
Delicate china teacups and hand-made fashions. Tin soldiers and thumb-sized horses, bonsai trees, newborn chicks, and spring violets. These are tiny things to admire and cherish, and in the new book “In Miniature” by Simon Garfield, you’ll see that those little things mean more than just a lot.
When you were a kid, you played with small toys. Mini-trucks, baby dolls, and scaled-down houses were appropriate because who’d ever consider giving a small child a full-size vehicle or a live infant of their own? Even today, little things are great for little kids but, says Garfield, some adults never outgrow their love of miniatures.
Take, for instance, travelers: we go somewhere exotic or unique, and we rarely come home empty-handed. Chances are that mementos clutter your shelves, for which you can thank entrepreneurial Frenchmen who made miniature replicas of the Eiffel Tower, thus launching the souvenir craze.
Anyone who’s ever had a dollhouse knows that miniatures are fun, but they can be serious, too. In the years prior to the Great Depression, a miniature village created by Missouri schoolchildren drew great crowds, in part because the kids ran the town as though it was full-sized, electing officials and enacting laws. Local builders, however, were overjoyed at the tiny town; they saw it as a way for grown-ups to imagine owning their own new homes.
Miniatures have been used to change the way men think about slavery. They’ve been created by designers who wished to curry favor with royalty, making a toy that never got played with. For sure, they were used as one-upmanship and as proof of tiny talents. They’ve been employed to scare, to illustrate the ways people die, to show off, and to relax, as a hobby. Garfield also mentions businesses that sell tiny treasures; high-priced microscopic artwork; and the work of pulicologists, otherwise known as circus flea trainers, proving that little things can mean big money.
Look around the room where you sit. Betcha it’s littered with small representations of bigger things – but why?
You’ll understand more after reading “In Miniature,” which is like taking a journey into obsession: Author Simon Garfield writes about people who are consumed by making and collecting things that are sometimes too small to see with the naked eye. The compulsion to do so, as you might expect, isn’t anything new.
Garfield says that there are several reasons for the love of miniatures: we enjoy the “dominion” over objects we can’t otherwise move, which makes sense: you can’t steal the Washington Monument, but you might have a mini-version around. We learn from models, as he shows here – and judging by one of his tales, we learn enormously. And, he says, small things offer food for the imagination, which is abundantly clear in this tiny little volume on mavens and their minis.
If you’re a railroader, doll collector, or if you just like wee, precious things, this is a book you’ll enjoy. For you, “In Miniature” is brimming with big fun.
TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER is based in Sparta, Wis.