Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Facsimile Surprise

I'm fond of illuminated manuscripts. I may possibly have mentioned that at some point on this blog. Back in college, I became aware of very, very expensive facsimiles available from a company in Europe... way beyond my price range. Since then, I've assembled a few facsimiles in slipcases or more conventional editions, and a larger number of books about illuminated manuscripts, their bindings, medieval painting techniques, etc.

But there are two kinds of facsimiles. One is the type where good quality reproductions of medieval manuscripts appear in conventional, if rather luxe, hardcover books. Normally there is an accompanying commentary, and perhaps they reproduce every page of the book, or perhaps they just reproduce the more interesting pages.

The other type is where they literally reproduce the entire book, its binding, every page. If someone penciled notes in, they appear faithfully. Such facsimiles are available from Faksimile Verlag Luzern, a Swiss company.

An aside. I'm not one of those people who fantasizes about being rich, and lies awake nights thinking about Maseratis and super models and flying first class. Just not the sort of thing that jazzes me. I like nice things, and if I were rich I'd buy a Jaguar and eat in nice restaurants all the time and jet over to Europe occasionally, but it really doesn't keep me awake at nights. But there is one thing that tempts me, and makes me doubt my career path, which usually keeps me quite happy: books. If I were rich, really loaded, I'd buy every one of these facsimiles, and keep them in a locked room and gloat over them. Maybe I'd let you see them. If you're nice to me, and wear gloves. That sort of thing. Sue me, I like books.

Well, I ran across the Faksimile Verlag people again late last year, looked at their website, and noted the absence of a price list. Not a good sign, but I'm a somewhat more prosperous academic than I was when I first encountered this concept as a callow youth, so I sent an email inquiring about the price of a volume that I knew was rather modest in size. Some weeks went by, and without any answer, I scouted around the Internet. Some other sites discussed the Faksimile company and gave price lists. The price for the volume I'd inquired about, the Prayers of Anne de Bretagne, was not out of the range I suspected, but it was at the high end of the range. More than I'd hoped. I would like to own one of these facsimiles some day, I thought, but it would have to wait a while. The price I saw was in the high three figures. That sum would fund some bookbinding classes, and plenty of materials, I thought. Owning one of these delightful volumes would have to be planned for carefully.

So yesterday, while working in the home office, I heard the doorbell ring. Shortly afterward, Melisande brought in a sizable package with German language on the label. I was mystified; had I forgotten about a used book or an eBay purchase? She sat down to watch, curious, and I began to open it, finding layers of elaborate packaging inside. Midway through, I remembered the Faksimile Verlag inquiry, and thought "Oh! A very elaborate catalog or brochure, apparently. What an amazing amount of expense to go to!"

You're laughing, gentle reader. No, it really didn't occur to me at first. It had never crossed my mind that asking after the price of the book would cause a company in Switzerland to ship an extremely expensive book to me with a polite invoice. When I got to a handsome presentation case in the center of all this packaging, however, I began to suspect that there was no way this was a catalog.

And it wasn't. It was the facsimile, very beautiful in red velvet, with a commentary volume hidden under a tray and sealed in plastic. There was an invoice: 1276 Swiss francs. At todays rates, about $1100.

Well, I can't keep it, of course. It won't do. I went and read the website much more carefully. Yes, they'll take it back. Yes, they are agreeable about installment plans. No, it isn't responsible for me to do that. I emailed them right away, and if I don't get a reply quickly, I'll call and start making arrangements for it to go back, carefully insured.

I obviously didn't read the inquiry form carefully enough, I realized. It really didn't occur to me at all that they would simply send the actual facsimile without any further communication. I mean, they don't know me from Adam - did they run a credit check, or did they just assume anyone inclined to inquire about the price was also well-heeled enough to buy the book without any further negotiation? I'm rather flattered, I guess.

The photos are borrowed from the Faksimile Verlag website, as I'm not handling the beautiful little object any more. A pity, but it must go back.

UPDATE: A very courteous response from Lucerne this morning - it was indeed a misunderstanding, and they will happily exchange it for the catalogue I was expecting.

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