Teeny-Weeny Texts

updated 05/10/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/10/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

PUBLISHER BARBARA RAHEB SPECIALIZES in light reading. Very light reading. Her books have pages smaller than a penny and words too tiny for any reader much bigger than a wood tick. In fact, the entire lilliputian library she has lovingly produced over 17 years could fit into a shoe box.

Raheb, 59, is the biggest name in microminiature books—volumes measuring less than an inch high that are generally used to furnish doll-houses—with 345 titles to her credit. Collectors around the world pay up to $200 apiece for one of her handpainted limited editions of classics such as A Christmas Carol (prices for others start at $20). She sells 800 to 1,000 books a year.

Growing up in Iowa and California, Raheb was a prolific painter who dreamed of one day illustrating children's books. Practicality, however, dictated that she work as an executive secretary in the commercial photo lab run by her late husband, Al, who died in 1988. But Raheb, who is childless, never lost her first love. "I'd go out to buy clothes and come home with books. I still do. That's why I look like this," she says, gesturing at her plain blouse and jeans. One day in 1972, Raheb saw a doll-house with some miniaturized books—and she was smitten.

Reading manuals on bookbinding and taking apart standard-size volumes to see how they were made, Raheb taught herself a craft that has been around since the 13th century. At her home in Agoura Hills, outside Los Angeles, she does everything except the typesetting and printing, from designing covers to trimming pages with a tiny guillotine. Living primarily off her husband's estate, she still hopes to write and illustrate her own book. "Some people really do read them, and I'm amazed," Raheb says. "My books require great eyes—and a magnifying glass."

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