The Vault

An Eeensy-Weensy New Year’s Gift    

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This teeny-tiny title page belongs to a diminutive calligraphic manuscript created by Esther Inglis in 1606 and is now held by the Newberry Library’s John M. Wing Foundation on the History of Printing. Titled A New Yeeres Gvift, the book was a present for a noblewoman, the Lady Erskine of Dirleton.

Inglis, who was born in 1571 in France and died in 1624, made her living as a calligrapher and illustrator. Her specialty was miniature writing. (This book is 3 1/4 by 4 3/8 inches.)

Inglis sometimes drummed up work by creating books on spec and sending them to people she didn’t know. Her hope was that those with money and status would offer her jobs after seeing the excellence of her writing. As she and her husband often found themselves short of funds, this strategy of finding patronage was essential.

Each page of this book contains a proverb illustrated with a miniature bird or flower. Throughout the book, Inglis praises Lady Erskine’s learning, propriety, and virtue. The calligrapher includes her own name and image on various pages throughout, so that any of the lady’s friends or family who might happen to see the book would know whose hand was responsible for this work of art.

Tiny manuscript page

Image courtesy of The Newberry.

Image courtesy of The Newberry.