Thistle Library

David Bryce & Son (Glasgow, Scotland, UK)
Series dates: 1905

Frederick A. Stokes Co. (New York)
Series dates: 1905

Valentine & Sons Ltd. aka/Valentine & Anderson, Ltd., Andersons (Dundee, Scotland, London, UK, Montreal & Toronto, CA)
Series dates: 1906-1932
Size: 2.5″ x 3.25″

The Walter Scott Publishing Co., Ltd. (London, Newcastle-On-Tyne, New York)
Series dates: 1928-1931

David Bryce (source: National Library of Scotland)

Bijou would be the appropriate term for this miniature series, bound in Scottish tartan cloth, originally conceived, it seems, as the Miniature Tartan Series by publisher David Bryce of Glasgow.

Bryce and his firm were a significant player in the Victorian craze for miniature books. Bryce used photolithography to reduce existing plates to increasingly small sizes. He worked with the University of Glasgow Press and the Oxford University Press to maintain the legibility of the typography in his books, and also took advantage of Oxford’s “india paper” process (which produced very thin, translucent paper). India paper played a significant role in smaller and cheaper books, including series books (source). Bryce’s firm was sold to Gowans and Gray around 1913.

The National Library of Scotland hosts a web version of the Miniature Books in Scotland exhibit which includes images of some of Bryce’s productions.

Bryce & Son Ltd. offered several tartan-covered miniature book series. A set sold around 1900 called the Mite Series in Tartan was very tiny (literally thumbnail size) and came in a decorative case. Some examples have a case wrapped in tartan, with the books in plain leather; in other examples, the case is plain with tartan bound books (see below).

(source for above)

(source for above)

Larger (but still small, at 2.5″ x 3.25″) copies of tartan-bound Scottish-themed books were sold by Bryce as early as 1894. I believe this series is called Bryce’s Miniature Tartan Series. At least one copy on Abebooks.com has a box and book wrapped in tissue.

In 1905 this series seems to be renamed the Thistle Library by Bryce. At least 26 titles were issued, most were Scottish themed titles. New York publisher Frederick Stokes entered in an agreement with Bryce in 1884 to publish Bryce’s miniature books in the US. According to one source, at least one million miniature titles were sold in the US by Stokes (“Frederick A. Stokes Company,” American Literary Publishing Houses, 1638-1899. Vol. 49, 1986). At least one (and probably more) of Bryce’s Thistle Library titles were sold in the US with a Stokes imprint around 1905.

In 1906 the Thistle Library was either sold or licensed to postcard and greeting card manufacturer Valentine & Sons, Ltd. Only a few titles in Valentine’s series overlap with the Bryce series. Images of the Bryce Thistle Library titles (in comparison to the Thistle Library title shown below) suggest that what Valentine bought was the design and technology to manufacture the miniature series. The binding style, the label on the book spine, and other characteristics of both the Bryce and Valentine series support this supposition.

Stationer Valentine & Sons allied with David Anderson, developer of a chain of stores in Scotland in the late 1800s. In 1899 shares of Anderson’s business were acquired by Valentine, and Anderson became director of the firm, a position he maintained for another 50 years (John Anderson: Viscount Waverley, by John W. Wheeler-Bennett, p. 3).

The post-1906 Thistle Library sometimes includes only the Valentine imprint, sometimes only the Anderson imprint, and sometimes both. I suspect the books were the same series, produced over time for sale in Anderson’s stores as well as more generally.

The breadth of Valentine’s products at the time they acquired the Thistle Library can be gleaned from the advertisement below, from The Bookseller and Stationer (Montreal and Toronto, Canada), October 1906 (source). Small gift books (as well as children’s books and other illustrated books) were (and are) sold alongside postcards, Christmas cards, and related items.

The last gasp of the Thistle Library corresponds to the last gasp of the Walter Scott Publishing Company, Ltd. Established by Walter Scott (no relation to the Sir Walter Scott) in 1882 the firm had its greatest success with series including the Scott Library, Great Writers Series, Canterbury Poets and, later, the Evergreen Library.

Scott died in 1910 and the firm declined rapidly. It did, however, remain in business (as no buyer could be found), with its stock being sold off to publishers Simpkin Marshall and William Reeves, and the rest pulped (“Walter Scott Publishing Company Limited.” British Literary Publishing Houses, 1881-1965. Ed. Jonathan Rose and Patricia Anderson. Vol. 112. Detroit, MI: Gale, 1991. 285-287. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 112). From 1928-1931 four rather uninspiring titles were printed by Andersons for Walter Scott using the Thistle Library series name: seemingly a last ditch effort to generate some funds for the firm. Those four titles are indicated (**) below in the Valentine/Andersons list of Thistle Library titles. The Walter Scott Publishing Co. was dissolved in 1931.

Thistle Library: Bryce & Son (1905)

Titles in the Thistle Library are listed below. This Bryce & Son list is missing titles, as there were at least 26 according to WorldCat. Frederic Stokes printed at least one, if not more, of the Bryce Thistle Library titles in the US, although I’ve only identified one with the Stokes imprint (marked with * below).

Robert Burns, Poetical Works of Robert Burns
Misc., Inverness and the Great Glen (#24, 1905)
Thomas Macaulay, Lays of Ancient Rome (#23, 1905)
William Moodie, Old English, Scotch and Irish Songs
*Walter Scott, The Lady of the Lake
Henry Charles Shelley, The Story of Dumbarton Castle (#25, 1905)
**Robert Louis Stevenson, The Pentland Rising (#26, 1905)

*Bryce & Frederic Stokes imprint (undated)
**Reissued in the Valentine / Andersons Thistle Library in 1925

Thistle Library: Valentine/Andersons (1907-1932)

I’ve identified 28 Thistle Library titles published by Valentine/Andersons. Dates are included below when WorldCat has a specific date of printing listed. Most of the Valentine/Andersons Thistle Library books don’t include a date of publication.  The inclusion of a date (below) does not indicate the first printing in the series, only that a copy of that title includes a year of publication in WorldCat.

**Ruth E Adomeit, Voices that Live (1928)
John Brown, Rab & His Friends (1905, 1911)
Robert Burns, Burn’s Poems
Robert Burns, Burn’s Songs
Jean Cochrane, Cathedrals & Abbeys of Scotland (1919)
Robert Cochrane, Edinburgh Castle, Royal Mile and Holyrood
John Davidson, Stirling Castle (1907)
W.T. Fyfe, Bonnie Prince Charlie: The Story of “The Forty-Five”
W.T. Fyfe, Wallace: The Hero of Scotland (1918)
Norman Macleod, The Gold Thread (1911)
**Misc., A Brief History of a Few Colleges and Universities (1930)
**Misc., A Few Living Men and Women From All Walks of Life (1929)
**Misc., Christmas (1931)
Misc., Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the United States of America (1926)
Walter Scott, The Lady of the Lake
Walter Scott, The Lay of the Last Minstrel
Walter Scott, Marmion
Walter Scott, Mary Queen of Scots
Walter Scott, Scott Birthday Book
Walter Scott, The Lord of the Isles
Oliphant Smeaton, Allan Ramsay and “The Gentle Shepherd” (1905)
Oliphant Smeaton, Edinburgh of To-Day (1920)
Oliphant Smeaton, Rob Roy and the Story of the Clan Alpine (1920)
Oliphant Smeaton, The Footsteps of Burns: From Doonside to Dumfries
Oliphant Smeaton, The Scott Country (1915)
*Robert Louis Stevenson, The Pentland Rising: A Page of History, 1666 (1925)
Kennedy Stewart, Scottish National and Scottish-American War Memorials (1932)
Alfred W. Tomlyn, Our Scottish Songs

*Originally part of the 1905 David Bryce & Son Thistle Library.
**Printed for Walter Scott, New York (by Andersons) 1928-1931


This copy of Scott’s Lady of the Lake is undated, but an owner inscription includes the year 1910. This copy is thus indicative of the earliest copies of this series. Later copies appear in tartan-wrapped boxes.

The small, linen-covered box:

The edge of the box with the book title:

The books are bound in tartan cloth of varying patterns. The author and title are indicated on a leather (or faux leather) label glued to the spine.

“This little book was bought at a shop near the gate to Melrose Abbey – Melrose, 1910.” The endpapers are patterned with various Scottish designs, including thistles, as well as a stylized VS colophon (Valentine & Sons).

An illustration faces the title page, which includes the series name and imprint.

The reverse of the title page is blank. The first page of the text follows. I can’t imagine anyone reading a book with type this small.

The rear endpapers repeat the pattern from the front. A small tag with the author’s name is stuck to the bottom of the rear endpaper. I suspect this was to help identify the book to avoid mix-ups when the binding was applied.