Why are thumbnails called thumbnails?

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Why are thumbnails called thumbnails?

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They’re quite literally the size of a thumbnail. The origin lies in art where small-sized sketches are often used to block out a composition quickly. You can try out a bunch of ideas in a very rough and small sketch form before picking one for a more detailed sketch.

Later on we did the same thing with photography where we produced thumbnail or contact sheets that contained many pictures printed at a very small size to easily sort through a collection and pick which pictures to use for the final product.

And we do the same thing online where we show smaller images for easier use in layouts where a user can click on a thumbnail to enlarge an image.

As zeFrogLeaps said, the term has been around meaning a small picture for a long time (wiktionary says the first attributed usage of “thumbnail-sketch” was in 1852).

I wonder if it caught on in common usage because of the thumbdrive? I think IBM released one of the first ever consumer portable flash drives under the brand name “ThumbDrive” and it eventually became a generic term (much like hoover for vacuums)

The tag looks like a thumbnail. The picture in the thumbnail is the nail, and the title is the thumb.