Teeny Tiny Book, Big Imagination


The title page of Charles J. Swarr's hand drawn picture book, self-published in 1863.

Ten year old Charles Jacob Swarr had quite the vivid imagination. Or so it would seem from his colorful and creative self-published picture book. It’s truly – and literally – one of a kind. The book was hand drawn and has stitched binding, though it’s no bigger than a matchbook. Created by Swarr in 1863, the pictures range from wild animals to Civil War soldiers to a man giving a magic lantern show – all the kinds of things that might intrigue a young boy of this era. The enterprising youth also included a price of 9 cents for his book.

A ferocious lion drawn from the imagination of Charles Swarr.

Swarr was the son of Hiram B. Swarr, attorney for President James Buchanan. He was born in 1853, he married Katherine Schroeder in 1884 and embarked on a career as one of Lancaster’s top coal merchants. He died in Lancaster in 1929.

Perhaps inspired by news of the Civil War, a soldier is depicted on horseback.

Perhaps young Charles was inspired by the Bronte sisters who created their own miniature books in their youth. Once such book of poetry written by Charlotte Bronte recently resurfaced after going missing for nearly a century. It was auctioned off this month at the New York International Antiquarian Book Fair, fetching a cool $1.25 million. Swarr’s book, found in LancasterHistory’s MG0921 Swarr Family Collection, while probably not quite that hot of a commodity, is priceless to us.

From Archives Blog