Museum Visit: Elaborately-Covered Books

For our April museum visit we headed to the Grolier Club, an exclusive club for antiquarian book dealers and collectors, for their exhibition “Judging a Book by Its Cover,” which includes a number of impressively-bound fifteenth-, sixteenth-, and seventeenth-century volumes as well as more-recent items.

It was interesting to be reminded of the historical separation between printing and binding, with many books being printed and sold without covers, which their owners then paid to have added by other specialists. There were also numerous examples on display of books which had been repeatedly rebound — for example, to replace attractive but less-durable cloth covers with harder-wearing leather panels, or to combine several small books by different authors into a single larger volume.

A French book published in 1548, with covers made in Geneva.
A French manuscript from the 12th century, rebound in England in the 1830s, using cover panels from France circa 1500.
A French book printed in 1642, custom-bound for its owner with his arms after 1668.

Before leaving, we stopped by their smaller exhibit on hieroglyphics, which also included a couple of very early printed books.

A 1594 reprint of a French book on hieroglyphics first published in 1556.

Studying Moments in Time

When we first began to focus in on a specific historical time and place to study, we began with the eleventh century — one thousand years ago seemed like a nice round number, and as our primary interests run more towards humble handcrafts and the rustic lives of regular people than to aristocratic finery, there seemed little incentive to draw us to the later centuries where elite life became ever more elaborate.

However, as we delved further, we kept finding new threads which pulled us to earlier and later periods — the clothing styles of the bronze age, the intellectual pursuits of the renaissance, the cross-cultural contacts of the Roman empire, and a dozen other fascinating avenues of study.

But trying to understand the full sweep of fifteen thousand years of human history was an obvious impossibility, so we settled on a compromise — we’d retain 1,000 years before the present (YBP) as our “home base,” but would also select a scattering of additional points in time to “visit.”

As currently envisioned, these points are spaced evenly every two hundred and fifty years over the last two thousand years, and then in larger increments back to the re-establishment of human populations in the British Isles following the last ice age.

The resulting timeline, displayed below, gives us a dozen moments in time to focus on: somewhat narrowed from the vast scope of all human history, but still an embarrassment of riches.

A Pair of Plump Lemons

Following my presentation of lemon succade in court at Barleycorn, I knew I would have to find a different type of citrus for our next encounter.

A search online turned up a number of vendors with round pillows or seat cushions that were screen-printed to look like giant slices of fruit, and indeed several of the offerings included lemon designs.

Having procured two such cushions, I ferried them to Bear’s Inn this weekend inside a large sack, and stashed them out of the way until our provincial court was almost finished. When I removed the herald’s tabard and begged the vicereines’ indulgence for a moment of personal business, they quickly guessed what was up, and called for the baronesses of An Dubhaigeainn to join them in court as witnesses.

Continue reading A Pair of Plump Lemons

Museum Visit: Money and Morality

Our February museum visit was a trip to the Morgan Library for an exhibition on the intersection of money, merchants, and morality in medieval Europe.

It was interesting seeing evidence of the tension caused as the post-Roman and early-medieval way of life was disrupted by the reintroduction of coinage, long-distance trade, and a market economy that set the stage for the modern world.

Continue reading Museum Visit: Money and Morality

A Lemon for the Vicereines

After the amusement of The Great Yak Quest (2019–2022), nothing could have pleased me more than to be assigned a new quest just one year later — an opportunity for shtick which I look forward to milking for as long as possible.

As a result of a misunderstanding following some perfectly innocent asset-pricing research — asking representatives of a neighboring barony how much they would be willing to pay for one of the province’s fine cantons — I was called before their Excellencies of Østgarðr in their Pennsic Court and tasked with bringing them an exceptional citrus.

For presentation at Barleycorn, I figured I would offer them a succade, or candied lemon peel. This method of preserving the intense flavors of citrus fruit beyond its natural season appears to have developed in Asia, and was transmitted from the Middle East to the Mediterranean in the fifteenth century or so, reaching northern Europe by the sixteenth. As a result, this seemed to be an appropriate gift for the vicereines, who are Renaisance-era Florentines.

Continue reading A Lemon for the Vicereines

Museum Visit: Springtime Gardens

Our April museum outing was a return to the Met Cloisters to view the gardens in spring bloom. Our party of eight was mostly locals from Appleholm, joined by one of our friends from the other side of the city.

Although there were the usual array of art and artifacts on display, as well as a special exhibit of household furnishings, the highlight of the trip for me was the outdoor spaces of the gardens and surrounding cloisters. The combination of inside and outside space, both enclosed and open, provides a wonderful sense of in-betweenness that we rarely encounter in the modern city.

Continue reading Museum Visit: Springtime Gardens

A New Website on Society Governance

Over the last year, I’ve written a growing number of blog posts about administration, policy, and governance in the SCA. It seems the topic has a lot of lasting interest for me, and I expect to write more about it in the future, but it felt odd to have these cluttering up our household website which is otherwise focused on historical research, person development, and camping gear, so I’ve created a separate website and migrated these posts over to it.

If you’re interested in these kinds of “business side” topics, you’ll find that content over at CreativeAdministration.org.

Downsides of Increasing Centralization of Power

I know that many people in our Society are drawn to the pomp and finery of the nobility in the High Medieval period, and I can see the appeal — such pretty outfits! — but on some level it’s hard for me to escape the gnawing knowledge that this gaudy display is only one face of a system of profound inequality.

Continue reading Downsides of Increasing Centralization of Power

Museum Visit: Bronze Age Balkans

Today we visited the “Ritual and Memory” exhibit at the
Institute for the Study of the Ancient World.

Although I’ve been summarizing the exhibit as focusing on the “Bronze Age Balkans,” the artifacts on display covered a wider range of time, from the Copper Age through the Iron Age, and of space, from the Balkan mountains to the Carpathian mountains. Continue reading Museum Visit: Bronze Age Balkans