It’s ridiculous to attempt to pinpoint a single instance when a domino fell and led to an inevitable end, resulting in the person you see before you. Chase all the butterflies you want, you’ll never find the one who flapped that wing.
Nevertheless, I can almost do exactly that with regard to this project. It started with a pen.
Mrs Carolyn Gieschen was the 6th grade art teacher who put the first dip pen and a bottle of ink in my hands. She handed out ruled paper and sample alphabets of spiky gothic letters and carefully showed us how each letter was formed based on the position of a nib. For most of my classmates, it was a tedious chore in a required class; for me it was an epiphany.
When I graduated high school, every honors student in the school received a certificate with their name hand-lettered by my pen. (Note: I was not among them. I’ve always been an indifferent student at the best of times.) The mural I painted in the hallway of my high school was outside the Industrial Arts classroom and consisted mostly of two-foot-tall characters. I lettered my friends’ zines and comics and hand-lettered my projects in art school when my classmates leaned on rub-off Greeking or computer-generated cut and paste.
I wish I’d stuck with it, but I burned out at some point and it became more hobby than anything.
Sadly, Mrs Gieschen passed away in 2011 or I might have called her up to chat about this. She was a heckuva teacher with a wonderful disregard for any of the societal walls that were supposed to divide the arts from the crafts. I carry that disregard with me to this day and spent most of my years in art school arguing with my instructors and classmates about where that line lies and whether we should give a tinker’s damn anyway.
So anyway, I promised I would point out the moments when I’m not learning a new thing, but exploring an old thing I already knew. As we delve into the Stationers, Scriveners, Parish Clerks, etcetera, and begin to really trace how the written history of the Tudor age was conveyed to us, you should know that at least some of this I’ve done before, some of it many times over. I’ve bound a book, cut quills, made paper, illuminated pages, cast type, run a printing press, and managed bookstores. And since I’ve written and published a proper paper-and-ink novel of my own (or persuaded a publisher to do it for me), I guess I’m up on the stationers too. I’m certainly no Shakespeare, but at one point or another, I’ve professionally participated in every aspect of getting the printed word from the jotted note to the printed page and thence to the reader’s hands, so I should be able to quietly put a checkmark next to both the Parish Clerks and the Stationers and move on, right?
Narrator: You must be new here...
We didn’t avoid the joiners just because I’ve knocked together a bookshelf or two. As always, the trick is going to be finding new and better and more period-correct ways to do the key activities so that we can discuss those activities in their proper context.
Some Practical Paleography Projects
- Quills: Before it became mightier than the sword, that wing feather needs to go through some serious modifications.
- Secretarie Hand: A form of written English so inscrutable that it’s practically a secret code. Seriously. (Thankfully, this is one area where the Elizabethans were quite good about documenting the heck out of what they were doing.)
- Iron gall ink: Remember those oak galls?
- Paper: Parchment is dead, long live the paper mill.
- Bookbinding: My last bookbinding project leaned heavily on modern adhesives and the methods were a bit… rustic for the 16th century binder. We can do better.
- Cuir Bouilli: This may seem tangential (it totally is) but we’re going to do it anyway and rope in the poor leathersellers, cordwainers, and maybe even the horner/bottlers before we’re through. For my money, the most vexing mystery of the early modern era, is just what the heck Cuir Bouilli really is and how was it made? We’re going to do our best to find out. If you don’t know what that is, stick around and be frustrated with the rest of us.
There will be more later; I assure you, it there’s anything writers like to write about, it’s writing. It’s a bit ridiculous, really.