At Harper’s, Alice Gregory ruminates on the world of miniature collecting, and explores why people make and admire such tiny things.
It is difficult for me, in the presence of miniatures, not to feel like a pervert. Tiny things have always filled me with a devious and urgent covetousness. “Delight” is too casual a word to describe it, and not at all physical enough. The first and last thing I ever stole was a Sudafed-size doubloon from a friend’s pirate-themed Lego set. I needed it. More than twenty years have since passed, but preventing myself from buying Polly Pocket sets on eBay is a feat of near-constant diligence. Sometimes I slip up, though, see a tiny thing I simply must own, and breathlessly buy it. The lining of my purse was once destroyed by the tines of several miniature forks that I kept stashed away for almost a week; on my mantel sit lead soldiers and ceramic seals, a single reduced radish, and a U.S. passport smaller than a Chiclet. They gather dust and puzzle friends. I don’t see myself as a trinkets person, and yet when I heard of a woman at the fair who hid her extensive miniatures collection at her son’s house so that her husband would never learn of it, I thought to myself, “Good idea,” and made a mental note to maybe one day do the same.
It feels gluttonous—and good—to hoard so much sensual detail at once. Miniatures are the most concentrated form of extravagance I know, a decadent combination of ontological and visceral attraction. There is wickedness to it, a pleasant brand of self-disgust. The masochistic ecstasy of seeing myself as a monster when next to a miniature is unshakeable. A hand never appears more sun-ravaged than when cradling a ticking grandfather clock that is the height of a stick of chewing gum and carved from an especially fine-grained pearwood. Nothing compares more favorably to a hangnail than a christening gown for a doll’s doll, made of embroidery thread so thin it must be sewn with acupuncture needles.