The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 11, Number 5
Jul 1987

Facsimile Publishers

Because the world population is ten times larger than it was in medieval and renaissance times, and the number of educated people and scholars is 1000 times larger, the demand for access to early books has increased greatly. The publishing of facsimiles is a business that is addressing the problem of keeping the original books from being used up by all those people.

The Book of Kells is being "facsimiled" (one can't say "reprinted") in its entirety by Faksimile-Verlag Luzerne, a Swiss firm, by a combination of photographic, printing and computer techniques that should result in an incredibly close reproduction of the original. (The New York Times for June 2 has a story on p. C 14, covering the presentation of the first four finished pages to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.) Of course it will not be printed on vellum, because each skin is different and it would be impossible to match the pages. Special paper will be made, and each sheet trimmed to the same irregular size, holes and all, of the original. The book will not be taken apart, as the Domesday Book was, or photographed under a sheet of glass, as books are for microfilming. A special device was invented that uses gentle suction to pull the pages flat for photographing them at an angle. A color transparency is made and scanned by a computer, which assigns numbers to each gradation of color, with the numbers corresponding to formulas for the mixing of inks which are sent to a printing machine. A preliminary facsimile is flown to Dublin and compared with the original. Hundreds of modifications are made for each page, and then it is printed. There are 680 pages in all. This limited edition of 1,480 copies should be ready by 1990. It will sell for $15,000 a copy.

In the June Museum News, on p. 61, there is an ad by another company named "Faksimile" (152 Mercer St., New York, NY 10012, 212/226-7658), that makes single facsimiles of documents, mostly for exhibit purposes. The ad says, in part, "Rare Document Facsimiles: archival, museum quality. We make Western and Japanese paper and can duplicate the paper of the original document."

Archival Facsimiles Ltd. (Alburgh, Harleston, Norfolk 1P20 0BZ, England) works in a different price range with simpler methods, but is also in the business of reproducing books for which the demand has exceeded the supply. The books are accurately printed by photo lithography (using care to block out show-through from the page on the verso, common in 17th century books) on "acid free and wood free quality papers and given a uniform binding of slate blue Irish linen buckram over millboard of sulphite pulp, neutral pH. The titles chosen range from 16th to 19th century imprints, and are offered either singly or in "collections" of five titles per year, for which the selling price varies from $500 to $1000 per year. The "collections" are: Discovery of the Pacific and Australia, The Books of the Monarchs of England, Industrial Antiquities, Mapping of the Stars, and Perspective [the science]. The titles are chosen partly on the basis of "conservation needs" (condition?) and partly on the basis of their value for both large and small academic libraries.

Libraries themselves have been publishing facsimiles of the books in their collections for a long time, though they must usually have to work with an outside printer. The production of facsimiles was the topic of a session at the third biennial meeting of the International Group of Publishing Libraries (IGPL) May 20-22 at the Library of Congress. Most of the 20 delegates were from U.S. research libraries, but they also came from Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland, and Holland.

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