This past week was UNC’s Spring break, and most of our students have been away, at their families’ homes or traveling. No doubt, they’ve all had with them electronic devices: smartphones, iPads, laptops, and Kindles. And maybe some made their journeys with a paperback or two.
Well, if they’d lived two centuries earlier, their portable reading matter might have had more style. The traveling library above, which the Rare Book Collection acquired last fall, is one of the earliest examples of its kind, the volumes bearing dates from 1802 to 1815. The whole is complete, with all 49 miniature books present, corresponding to the engraved contents list (above left), pasted to the inside of the original book-shaped box.
Each volume is 3-1/2 inches high, the pages comparable in size to a smartphone’s screen. Titles include classics by French authors such as Molière, Racine, and Voltaire, as well as the works of other writers less well-known to Anglophones today.
Certainly, this traveling library is limited in content and more cumbersome than recent inventions, but what an elegant way to read on the go. Lore has it Napoleon even owned one.