The History of Micro Writing & Micrography

The History of Micro Writing & Micrography
Researched & Prepared By Gordon Cramer
When talking with people about the subject of micro or miniature writing, their first response almost
invariably is ‘Oh, that’s writing on rice isn’t it?’ It comes as something of a surprise to them to learn that Micro
Writing as an art form and interestingly as a Military intelligence tool has been around for thousands of years
and in fact was in far greater use than rice writing ever was. But, in order to keep things fair and equitable, I
have included some information on an advanced form of ‘Rice Art’ which I am sure will take your breath away
when you see the amazing artistry and skill that was used.
Cuneiform Writing on Clay Tablets
Possibly the first known example of micro or miniature writing used in Mesopotamia and as you can see it is
quite small even by today’s standards. It was used mainly for letter writing and contracts. The British Museum
has many examples and to date more than 2 million of these Cuneiform tablets have been discovered with a
relative hand full having been translated.
Hebrew Micrography
There are thousands of examples of Micrography to be found in Jewish culture. Finely done and presenting as
amazingly detailed works of art. Every aspect of the images above has been done using the written word,
every flower, crown, facial detail, hair on the head of a subject, clothing everything created using micro or
miniature writing. Other religions also used a similar approach to the creation of works of art.
Chinese Examples of Miniature Writing
Created by Chinese artist Zhou Changxing and his daughter Zhou Liju, these incredibly detailed micro words
were hand carved into the surface of the stones that you see in the image above are housed in their museum
of miniatures which you can find in Qibao Old Street in Shanghai, no website that I can find at this time but you
can Google the museum and artist and you'll find hundreds of examples of fine miniature works.
Japanese Miniature Writing on Pottery
Astounding skill would be required to not only write in miniature on porcelain but to do within a cup or a bowl.
This art form is known by a few names but perhaps GUIYO is the better known. The images above show a
number of very fine examples, bear in mind that many of these characters were done with brush and not
always pen.
Rice Writing
A well known type of miniature writing, believed to have originated in Ancient Turkey and India. Whilst it is
indeed small, about .5mm in height, it is not the smallest handwriting known. It is quite common to see this
kind of writing being sold in markets but there are also some very skilled proponents an example of which is
shown above and is to be found in TopKapi Palace in Istanbul.
Miniature Writing Machine
Peters Miniature writing machine as the first known attempt to automate or greatly reduce in size normal
handwriting. The machine was quite a complex affair that had the ability to reproduce handwriting at a scale
of 1:6250. Mr. Peters, the inventor, was in fact a banker, absolute proof of bankers having invented a way to
create even smaller print.
For interest, there is a modern day example, an electronic pantagraph machine also pictured.
18th Century English Miniature Writing
In these images you can see the works of a person who it is believed was one of three illustrators for
Oliver Goldmsith’s Novels. Three of the works show excerpts from one of Goldsmiths works, The Bishop of
Wakefield, written into and shaped into rural scenes. These examples were found by Don Shelton of New
Modern Day Examples
Whilst not that many people still practice the art of micro writing there are some very talented calligraphers
that have superb skills as shown in the image above, whilst not the smallest writing it is still fine work and
some of the letters in lower case are of the 1 to 2 mm range
CIA Manual on Secret Writing
No image at this time but you can read about ways in which Microwriting was used by CIA operatives in a
recently released, 2011, CIA manual which you will find on the web.
Amongst other things it discusses how micro writing can be used across the face of a postage stamp and
concealed by virtue of the colour of ink used, in the case quoted it was an orange postage stamp and red ink
writing which could only be seen using a rose tinted lens. Other examples include writing within a column
divider on a printed page or even in an advert as well as other secret writing methods
The images below show examples of how micro writings and drawings were used in WW1 by all sides including
NZ, Australian, British & French Intelligence units
This first image is of a postage stamp that was in fact used by German Intelligence to send a drawing of a new
anti Zeppelin artillery shell.
Below is an example of micro written Intelligence report believed to be from Louise de Brettignies alias ‘Alice
Dubois’ who was both a British & French agent.
The stamp below was used to conceal a 1600 word intelligence report from the ‘Alice Dubois’ network in 1915.
This example from New Zealand is a micro written version of the Lord’s Prayer written on the back of a
postage stamp. Believed to be from an ANZAC in 1916.
These 3 very interesting close ups are of letters found written on the back of a book. To be precise, they are in
fact images of indentations left as a result of someone having written on to one piece of paper using a book to
lean on thus leaving ‘impressions’ of the original letters. You will notice that the larger letters, a Q and a form
of S, contain very small letters within them, this technique was used by the British Special operations Executive
during WW2. Effectively the agent in the field writing the secret document needed only a pen and a sharp
pencil; they would first write the larger letters in ink and then insert the smaller/micro letters in pencil into the
larger letters. Once this was done a final layer of ink was applied over the lot such that all that would be visible
would be a set of inked letters, the micro letters being concealed behind that final layer of ink. The resultant
code was virtually undetectable unless the enemy had a book or paper on which the real page was rested.
The code itself could be revealed by immersing the page in a strong solution of bleach which would remove
the ink leaving only the pencilled secret micro writing in view.
For more information, please contact me,[email protected] or on my mobile number 0468 309 032.