Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Hurray for Brewster

   I have grumped before about the ephemeral nature of the web, and now I am going to grump again. I have just upgraded the graphics and formatting for the script samples for formal diplomatic hands, most of which are papal documents. I had not gone into these in great detail as the Vatican Secret Archives website used to have a really good, extensive section on The Diplomatics of Papal Documents. It has apparently disappeared. It can be found on The Internet Archive here, so all is not lost.
   I can understand that some older web material might look a bit olde worlde after a few years. After all, that is why I am upgrading my own stuff. Some material is ephemeral or topical by nature. But when somebody (or somebodies) has taken the trouble to produce work which is of enduring interest, even if minority interest, and of educational value, and otherwise hard to come by, and very attractive to boot, why would you just remove it? I mean, when a paper book exhausts its print run, the existing books are still out there. When a website is gone it is gone. Well it would be, were it not for Brewster and The Internet Archive. May he and his mighty project live forever.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Authentic Fakery

  Every so often I get an email from somebody who wants to buy, or has bought, a bit of medieval memorabilia on eBay and wants to know whether they are getting good value. Note that I do not answer these queries; that is, I answer the emails but not the question. Everybody has their own idea of good value, and I am not a qualified valuer. Besides, I just might be bidding against them. One writer did once venture the opinion that all medieval manuscripts on eBay were fake. I could not imagine who would take the trouble to produce an authentic looking piece of medieval manuscript fakery for the sort of money that they generally get on eBay. There are 19th century calligraphic pieces in medieval style, but if it looks like a duck and quacks ........
  An item currently for sale has me intrigued. It is a carved and gilded book cover which is advertised as being a modern fake in 15th century style, produced by a well known forger in Siena. It seems that, so far, nobody wants to buy it. Is it because, the object having been identified as a fake, that it is difficult to identify or authenticate that it is the particular fake that it is purported to be? A quick google around art auction websites suggests that fake book covers by this particular forger can fetch several thousand English pounds. He apparently produced a lot of book covers based on some in the city archives in Siena. A known fake painting by the artist was sold to over twenty thousand pounds.
  So what is an authentic fake? Does a fake eventually generate its own authenticity? Is a fake of less value if you cannot authenticate the identity of the faker?
  Meanwhile, back at the coal face, the update to graphics and formatting of the script samples of all Gothic book hands is complete and I am about to start on the document hands. Yippee!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Rejected, Discarded, Forgotten

  Have you checked out the blog Forgotten Bookmarks? It's all about the odd things that people leave in secondhand books. If you have ever bought secondhand books, you have probably found some yourself: restaurant menus, newspaper clippings, postcards, notes and annotations. They are little stories in themselves.
  I found a very unfortunate one the other day, while sorting for the monster secondhand book fair. It was in a guide to writing fiction, the book itself inscribed from one female person to another with "Follow your dreams". The insert was a publisher's rejection letter. It seems the would-be author chucked out the book, the letter and her dreams all together. Very sad.
  Have you ever wondered what happened to failed medieval authors? Did they just quietly starve, or get themselves a desk job in the town guild or the chancery? How did you get to be an author anyway, apart from getting yourself locked away for a number of years by your country's enemies in a reasonably comfortable prison with nothing to do? For every Geoffrey Chaucer or Thomas Hoccleve, were there dozens of government scribes whose colleagues ducked out to the privy when they saw them approaching with yet another manuscript in their hands? For every William of Malmesbury or Matthew Paris, were there dozens of monks being ordered to stop scribbling and get to choir immediately? We only have winner's history, even in the literary area.
  Upgrades to the scripts in Medieval Writing have got as far as Gothic bastarda. Sounds promising, but that is only the book scripts.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Right Royal Books

  I have just received an email suggesting that I remind you all about the exhibition of manuscripts from the Royal collection at the British Library. This exhibition will display some of their splendiferous treasures from one of their oldest, and most prestigious, collections. The British Library website has an announcement for the exhibition here. There is not much information at that site yet, but presumably there will be more when the exhibition opens in November. There has also been a continuing series of postings on the exhibition, the collections and the associated activities on the British Library blog Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts. Let us hope that once the exhibition is underway, they are generous with what they put online, for those of us who cannot just pop over to London for the live event.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

So Many Books!

  After five days of lugging books around and a week of entertaining two rampaging granddaughters, progress has resumed on updating the formatting and graphics in the script sample section of Medieval Writing. I am now into Gothic textura book hands. Wheeeeee!
  The book fair I was helping at is a truly amazing thing. It started many years ago in a modest way, and has grown continually, so now they can run two main fairs a year, and supply a number of smaller ones in other places, in an absolutely enormous building with over 200,000 books laid out on rows of tables. All books have been donated by the Canberra community. It is, I believe, the biggest book fair in Australia.
   The organisers of the fair are themselves somewhat perplexed by the continuing growth of the event, and are wondering just what will happen in the future. More books are being donated, and at the same time more books are being bought, but can it continue? Possibly some of the growth in donations can be attributed to the demographics of Canberra, a city that has been populated by young professional people who are now becoming older retired professional people. Many are probably at a downsizing stage, not to mention a departing stage.
   The buying public is still turning up to recycle the books, however, so reports of the demise of the printed book are currently a little premature. There are some interesting things to note. Fiction turns over at a great rate. I think more people actually buy books, then recycle them, rather than borrowing from libraries. Classic literary fiction does not sell all that well. Perhaps the free downloads of out of copyright material, or purchases for a few cents from Amazon of such works in Kindle format, are the making the first inroads in the e-book department. Then again, perhaps everybody is sick to death of Jane Austen. Personal prejudice there.
   I will be interested to see how the whole thing progresses over the next few years, I should get a close view, as I have been persuaded to continue helping by sorting and pricing dictionaries and thesauruses and the like. Now those are books where you still need to riffle the pages.