Small but perfectly formed

Reed's Lilliput books and a 20 cent coin

What is it about unusually small things that make them inherently attractive and collectable? I have in my possession three diminutive books and their novelty size is the only real reason I hold on to them.

In the 1960s and 1970s, New Zealand publishing house A.H. & A.W. Reed produced a series of tiny books measuring 35 by 50 millimetres. The series included a Māori-English dictionary, a book of Māori place names and another of Māori proverbs, all of which I own. Amazingly, they contain between 500 and 600 pages within their bright vinyl covers.

Quaintly branded ‘Lilliput’ after the island inhabited by miniature humans in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s travels (1726), the wee volumes were published with tourists in mind. They were very popular – according to Gavin McLean’s book Whare raupo: the Reed Books story, the Lilliput Maori dictionary sold 61,200 copies in the 1970s. Despite this, they became too expensive to produce and Reed decided to stop publishing them in 1977.

I wonder how many buyers actually read these books. And how reliable is the information they contain? Reed worked with Māori scholars and leaders when publishing their extensive catalogue of Māori books and while the company’s approach would probably not stand up today (owner Clif Reed, whose knowledge of te reo Māori was sparse, wrote all three of my books) by the standards of the time they were pretty consultative. I’d love someone with the requisite expertise to put these books to the test.

One comment added so far

  1. Comment made by Diane Bargas || August 6th, 2015

    I had one of these many years ago but sadly I have no idea where it is now. Thanks for reminding me about my wee red book.

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