what is the smallest type size?

I have a common prayer book, Oxford University Press 1854. It is 3 3/4 X 1 7/8 with type I can’t read with a magnifying glass.
Full pages headings and white space. Was there another way to print this? Too early for photo etching? Any ideas. thanks

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In France, Didot produced a type in 1819 that was 2 1/2 points. The type was so small that it was cast 100 letters at a time. In the 1870s the Salmin brothers from Padua, Italy developed a 2 point type called “fly’s eye”, which damaged the eyesight of both the compositor and corrector. In 1895 Theodore Low de Vinne published a book that used a 3 1/2 point type called “Brilliants”. Today the smallest type available is 5 point on a 6 point body, but the way the typeface fits can make it seem even smaller. I have some 4 and 5 point types, but haven’t had the opportunity to use them yet. Without the necessary spacing materials, they are almost useless. Books have been printed from plates that are reduced from types which gives the printer the ability to have a type that is smaller than is readily available. The smallest letterpress book is “Old King Cole” printed by Ian MacDonald at his Gleniffer Press, Paisley, Scotland in 1985, measures 1mm x 1mm, and was considered to be the smallest book in the world when it was printed.


i have a 10 point em that has the lord’s prayer on it, atf gave them out as a promotion back in the early 1960’s, under a strong magnifier you can make out letters on it. When i was a linotype operator at a local daily it was my job to set the corrections on all the agate, 5-1/2 point type is hard to see when its solid on a galley. Today i’m fighting to read 12 pt. type. The copperplate gothics have 4 sizes of 6 pt. the smallest is less than half the size of a 6 pt. slug i think, but its cast on a 6 pt. body.

Oh yes the specimen quad i too have one of these with L/P on it and another with ave maria on it . Amazing achievement to produce them in the day !

A little off the subject but the Gorton Machine Company, that made pantograph engravers, engraved the Lord’s Prayer on the head of a pin to prove the accuracy of their equipment. It’s quite a story of how it had to be done in a climate controlled room, a little at a time and the body heat of the engraver could not come in contact with anything.

Those engravers were the kind you want if you wish to make your own fonts in brass ,they were delicate enough to trace a lead body if you found good to copy from , I came across these being used to engrave plaques for grave stones and memorial seat labels etc.

My smallest type is cast on a 3 pt. body. It is an old roman face with caps and lowercase so there are ascenders and descenders!!!!!! It is not something I was looking for, or even knew that I had until I was cleaning and sorting a larger size font in a case and noticed these tiny slivers under the larger type. Setting would be a real pain- especially trying to use spacing.


My smallest metal is a 6pt Tiffany Script and my smallest wood is 1” !
I am pretty happy with the 1” woodtype since I never seem to see any for sale that is smaller than 1.5” and generally way out of my price range.

Here is a sample of the smallest type in our college studio. 4pt Century Old Style.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/2556942413/in/set-721576054778...

the type in question is 1mm it is not a free lead type? Is each page then engraved as a whole and printed a page at a time? I would like to be specific as I want to show this as an example to some students but if I can’t give a good exp. I won’t show the book.

Sorry quick correction, I also have a 1/4” chinese moveable type. I only have 480 characters and well ultimately unable to print much of anything really. The average Chinese newspaper has around 3k characters and the whole alphabet is somewhere around 120k characters.

Abby - I am very suspicious of the 1854 date of your little booklet. If the type is a microscopic as you say, I doubt very much that anyone had the capability of doing that at such an early date. Perhaps this is a reduced facsimile of a book originally printed in 1854?

My smallest wood type is 2-line (24 pt.) and my largest font is a foot tall (72-line)


@abby. I would say your book, because of its age, would have been printed from hand-set type. Photo reproduction and plate-making were in its infancy in 1854, although it could have been electrotyped from hand-set type, which would have made sense for type that small would wear quickly. It was probably a 3 or 3 1/2 point type used to print the prayer book, but you could probably get a more definitive answer by contacting an archivist at the Oxford University Press: http://www.oup.co.uk/contactus/

Here is a link to a similar prayer book dated 1846:

The 1879 announcement by Marder, Luse & Co. of what became the American Point System (in _The Chicago Specimen_ (Winter, 1879); reprinted in Rich Hopkins’ _The Origin of the American Point System for Printers’ Type Measurement_) gives names for the sizes under 3 point:

1 pt = “American”
1 1/2 pt = “German”
2 pt = “Saxon”
2 1/2 pt = “Norse”

Marder, Luse called 3 pt “Brilliant” while in 1918 the Typothetae called it “Excelsior; confusingly, ML called 4 point “Excelsior” while the Typothetae called it “Brilliant.” :-)

There is of course no indication in this that Marder, Luse were in fact making type this small.

David M.

Page sixty-eight of Theodore Low DeVinne’s “Plain Printing Types” 1914, states…

…Yet there is a text-type even smaller. In 1827 Henri Didot of Paris, then sixty-six years old, cut with his own hands a font of type on the body of 2-1/2 points by the Didot system, which he called “microscopique.” Twenty-five lines of this type apparently fill the space of on American inch.
A later paragraph states…
These types are wonderful as evidence of skill; but they are of slight value in the practice of printing.


Didot differs from American points so if 25 lines equaled an American inch it would have been about 2.88 pt. (American).


Thanks for all the information.

A friend of mine has recently cast for me a fount of Gill Sans Titling 6 point No 4. On the 6 point body, the face is around 2 points or so, Do I get the cigar? or rather perhaps he should.
On the other hand if you want to consider a masterpiece of
matrix cutting and founders casting , have a look at 12 point Society Script, a copperplate style by S.B. & Co from the Edwardian era.

i have seen on here, photos of [ “The Lord’s Prayer” on the head of a pin]. Quite a collector’s item, if original, i am told. That would seem perty small to me.

The Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany and ATF the Typefoundry used to give out the Lord’s Prayer on a 12 pt Body.

Follow g apprenticeship `54 -`60 attended IPEX, International Printing Exhibition, out of our Earls Court and Olympia, every 4 years way back when, as a Monotype apprentice/trainee spent most of the time on the Monotype stand, still have the 12 Pt. character with the Lords Prayer on top, given out, with its own printed wallet, (life size print of course) but with the Disclaimer & Directive that the HEIGHT is less than normal type high, by implication not possible to print from, still have the original but now sadly oxidised beyond recognition.!

(Author) currently trawling through the *BENTONS* 370+ Page book, looking for references to Punch cutting etc, following quoted verbatim:- (re Linn Boyd and Morris Fuller Benton)

One of ATF,s advertising devices used as early as 1922, was a piece of type on which was cast the entire Lords Prayer - 66 words, made up of 271 right-reading characters, including punctuation. (The matrix was cut wrong-reading so that the type would be right-reading.
On the eight-point version of the Lords prayer, the lowercase letters were .0044 inch in height; the matrix was cut by a tool measuring .0005 inch in diameter: and the image area was constrained to a six point square. that is, a square measuring 1/144 of a square inch.
Amazingly, the words are entirely legible under a microscope.

ATF also cut another matrix using the same pattern for a four-point type body and cast the type, 3 squared (author apologies No superiors on the computer) but Linn Boyd Benton was not satisfied with it. He maintained that the eight-point example was the smallest successful cutting done directly into a matrix. +>superior<4. again apologies.

At the Dale Guild, Theo had a tiny compartmented box of 2 point type. I think it was Railroad Gothic. He used it to make decals for his model trains. If I recall correctly, he said it was $1700 worth of type if bought from ATF back in the day. Apparently those smaller sizes were hard to make; I am sure they were also difficult to font.

I was terrified of the stuff- even the static charge from your hand was enough to topple it!


Between the mid 50,s until mid 70,s (demise of letterpress generally) in Houses that accommodated technical setting, on the Monotype with 4 line maths equipment.
(Author) have used it in the past, till `76 `77, no problem on the Caster but enormous headache for the Keyboard operator, like, soul destroying !!!

Generally with 10 Pt. matrix case, but the actual 4 line maths characters (within the m/case) were in the range of 3 Pt. 4 Pt. 5 Pt. wide at best, i.e. [ ], { } =,+, -,( ), first/second order superiors/inferiors and more etc., no problem on the Caster because even down to 3 Pt. 4 Pt. width all on 10 Pt. body, problems for the comps did arise, when for example a second order Inferior was required, as in 2nd. order 7/8/9, etc was not in the Matrix case, and the comps would have to manufacture/modify a character by hand with the obligatory D.I.Y (minature) Type Vice.* one of the apprentices first learning curve exercises, for footnotes within the text etc.,

Author, Still own at least 2 boxes of Monotype Mats/Matrices with 320 mats per box of inferiors/superiors, figs. etc., from 3 Pt. upwards on 10 Pt. body All perfectly usable, and could be cast up on request.
* M. H. 26/10/2018.

I also came into contact with Monotype Corporations’ approach to maths, but with four lines of nine point to produce formulae neatly 36 point deep. Using a nine point mould with some part of many symbols laying on top of neighbouring shoulder height sorts. At the time that operation was very busy indeed; , after metal was cast, and made up with the text, repro pulls were taken, imposed negs were made in a gallery camera, and the results posted to the USA. We were told at the time that the US could’nt do this work. I think the customers were several University presses over there.

Adding to my last, I would observe that the finished pages looked very well typographically speaking

This is a page from the works of Horace, printed in 1828 by Henri Didot, who also cut the punches and cast the type. The type is 2-1/2 points (Anglo-American points). It would take 27 lines of this type set solid to equal one inch. [From “Microscopique,” a booklet written and beautifully printed by Timothy Hawley.]

image: smallesttype.jpg


does anyone have one of these “Lord’s Prayers”? i would love to get one. even if is a replica