Discover the Jacobean Traveling Library: The 17th Century Precursor to the Kindle

Image cour­tesy of the Uni­ver­si­ty at Leeds

In the strik­ing image above, you can see an ear­ly exper­i­ment in mak­ing books portable–a 17th cen­tu­ry pre­cur­sor, if you will, to the mod­ern day Kin­dle.

Accord­ing to the library at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Leeds, this “Jacobean Trav­el­ling Library” dates back to 1617. That’s when William Hakewill, an Eng­lish lawyer and MP, com­mis­sioned the minia­ture library–a big book, which itself holds 50 small­er books, all “bound in limp vel­lum cov­ers with coloured fab­ric ties.” What books were in this portable library, meant to accom­pa­ny noble­men on their jour­neys? Nat­u­ral­ly the clas­sics. The­ol­o­gy, phi­los­o­phy, clas­si­cal his­to­ry, clas­si­cal poet­ry. The works of Ovid, Seneca, Cicero, Vir­gil, Tac­i­tus, and Saint Augus­tine. Many of the same texts that showed up in The Har­vard Clas­sics (now avail­able online) three cen­turies lat­er, and now our col­lec­tion of Free eBooks.

Appar­ent­ly three oth­er Jacobean Trav­el­ling Libraries were made. They now reside at the British Library, the Hunt­ing­ton Library in San Mari­no, Cal­i­for­nia, and the Tole­do Muse­um of Art in Tole­do, Ohio.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Har­vard Clas­sics: Down­load All 51 Vol­umes as Free eBooks

The Art of Mak­ing Old-Fash­ioned, Hand-Print­ed Books

Won­der­ful­ly Weird & Inge­nious Medieval Books

Wear­able Books: In Medieval Times, They Took Old Man­u­scripts & Turned Them into Clothes

Free Online Lit­er­a­ture Cours­es

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Comments (3)
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  • Nate Hoffelder says:

    It’s a box of books, not a Kin­dle, you SEO-bait-writ­ing hack.

  • Billy says:

    The metaphor works. Peo­ple car­ry a lot of ebooks in their Kin­dle, just like they car­ried real books in this one. Chill out, dude.

  • Rob Mark says:

    I enjoyed the arti­cle but I wish the pho­to had includ­ed some­thing for scale or that the arti­cle had giv­en the dimen­sions of the book since “minia­ture books” can vary a bit. I’m guess­ing these would be about 3 1/2″ to 4″ at the spine, but I’d still like to know for sure.

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