When Dennis Finn retired six years ago as technical support manager at IBM, he combined his computer knowledge with his interest in books, and now down a quiet country lane in Bowral, he uses the Internet to sell fine art facsimile books throughout the world.
What specifically is a facsimile book? Dennis explains: “Facsimile is defined in the dictionary as the faithful rendition of originals. The latest electronic production processes are used, backed by an incredible range of expertise in many fields, photography, printing, art, literature, bookbinding to name but a few, resulting in a volume as near as possible to the original in appearance, in size, in condition. The paper has the optimum surface for the sophisticated printing involved, and at the same time has the appearance and texture of the original parchment. The publishers are justly proud of their colour reproduction, particularly the difficult ultramarine blue characteristic of medieval manuscript illuminations, which was made from ground rare lapis lazuli. All gold-leaf and gold-inked lines are added by hand, each page is individually cut and authentic materials are used for the bindings."
Unlike important works of art, access to most of the rare manuscripts of the world is not possible for they are locked in the archives of the great libraries. The literature and art of the Western world was first recorded by monks working in the scriptoriums of the monasteries, who spent decades painting and copying these beautiful illuminated manuscripts. The oldest of these is the Book of Kells, dating from around 800. During its 1200 year history it survived warfare, burial, pillaging and fire until 1661 when it was placed in the care of Trinity College, Dublin. It remains there today, extremely fragile, but the best protected manuscript in the world. The miniatures depict, and the Latin text narrates, the story of Christ from the Gospels, and all but two of the 680 pages are decorated in incredible colour in a wealth of Celtic spirals and never-ending knots, of interlaced lines and entwined figures, angels and animals. Specially cased, it is on show, and every month a page is turned. It would take monthly visits to Trinity College for nearly 30 years to see the whole book — and not even the most august of scholars can go beyond this.
Some 10 years ago, after a great deal of debate and heartsearching, Trinity College authorities made the momentous decision to dismantle the Book of Kells for essential restoration, and at the same time permitted Faksimile Verlag Luzern to publish the first complete facsimile of it in a limited edition of 1480 copies. “This achieves three important facts - there are now complete copies if an unbelievable tragedy destroyed the original, it is now accessible to a great many people, and this in turn allows better study and research.”
When listed for sale in 1990, the facsimile of the Book of Kells cost $US20,000. There are about 50 copies available, and Trinity College says there will never be another edition.
There are a handful of specialist publisher/printers of facsimiles and limited edition books in Britain, Switzerland, Italy and Spain, and together they list fewer than 100 works from the great libraries of the world — Turin-Milan Hours with miniatures by Jan van Eyck, Duc de Berry’s Books of Hours, the complete editions of Leonardo de Vinci’s drawings and manuscripts, Marco Polo’s maps and journeys, Domesday Book, Gregorian music, Jewish literature, William Blake’s Jerusalem, and the 16th Century Flower Book of Hours by Simon Bening — the 300 special volumes of this, with copies of the heavy gold clasps set with rubies and emeralds, were sold before listing.
The miniatures in many of these books, together with the embellishments of the text, show wonderful intimate scenes of homes and furnishings, of occupations and social life, and details of architecture, costume, weaponry heraldry animals and flowers, and an absolute treasure trove of patterns and designs. All the works are boxed together with a matching commentary volume with translation of the text, and are bought by universities and libraries, collectors and connoisseurs, historians and designers. Some books are bought by investors and kept in mint condition, unopened and with the seals intact. A few editions have already sold out, and when the investors later sold their copies through Sotheby’s or Christie’s, they fetched three times the original price.
“Three of the publishers have their own web page linked to mine, but the others use my page, www.finns-books.com/ ~finns. Some books I courier to the buyers, others I send by post.” Globalisation is often talked about, but little understood. This is it. The publishing is in Europe — world marketing and distribution is in Bowral, a small country town in N.S.W. This is the future.