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Sharing the Love of Medieval Manuscripts: An Interview with Facsimile Finder

Looking to have a first-hand experience of your favourite medieval manuscript? Look no further! We spoke with Facsimile Finder, a company specialising in facsimile editions of illuminated manuscripts. Giovanni, co-founder of the company with his wife Giulia, has told us a bit about the industry and the importance of facsimiles as teaching tools. Furthermore, for those of you looking for information about a specific medieval manuscript or facsimile, Facsimile Finder provides a database with all the information you need. So long endless searching, hello Facsimile Finder!

Giovanni and Giulia, the founders of Facsimile Finder
Giovanni and Giulia, the founders of Facsimile Finder

How did you and Giulia come up with Facsimile Finder?

A few years ago, Giulia travelled to Rome for a work trip to the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, home to some of the rarest manuscripts in the world: she was there, on behalf of a publisher, to find manuscripts to be replicated into facsimiles. She was so ecstatic of such experience that, upon returning, she told me all about it.

Being into art in general, I started to grow an interest for manuscripts and facsimiles. Then, one night, as I was browsing the Internet I realized that libraries were using facsimiles to teach art history and palaeography; that’s when I had my Eureka moment and the concept of Facsimile Finder was born!

What is Facsimile Finder exactly?

It’s a bookselling service that supplies libraries and private collectors with facsimile editions of medieval illuminated manuscripts. It is worth pointing out that we are not booksellers in the traditional sense. We apply our deep knowledge of the current market to supply the best facsimile editions at the best conditions.

Independence, honesty, and straightforwardness are what make us different – for example, more than once we have advised our customers not to buy overpriced or poorly made facsimiles. Indeed, we pride ourselves on building a friendly and honest relationship with our customers, and we love to walk the extra mile to meet their every need.

And what can you tell us about the website?

First of all I want to stress how Facsimile Finder is composed of two important parts, one being FacsimileFinder.com and the other being the team and their dedication to our customers.

FacsimileFinder.com is unprecedented as it offers a database containing verified data on all medieval manuscripts and their facsimiles: no more sorting through inconsistent and missing data, when looking for a manuscript facsimile! Here is a funny video that we put together to explain what and how we do.

What is the facsimile edition industry like, and where is it most popular?

The facsimile-making industry is certainly a market niche in the vast horizon of printed books: moreover, currently there aren’t many active publishers. However, the few that are still active are consistently improving the quality of the production, and this is certainly good news. The market is developed mainly in Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, and Germany.

How many copies get made?

Usually the typical publisher prints from 300 to 1000 copies of a manuscript facsimile edition. Copies are numbered and certified and, theoretically, once a facsimile of a manuscript is produced, there should be a long waiting time before producing a new facsimile of the same manuscript, to avoid decreasing the market value of the earlier edition. Unfortunately this is not always the case, although very rare.

Why do publishers choose a particular manuscript? Who are the main customers?

What manuscript “makes the cut”, is decided in terms of importance and artistic excellence. It also depends on the type of customer: when it comes to private collectors – they represent the vast majority – the presence of many illuminated pages in the text will usually seal the deal. Institutions represent only a small part of the audience: however, culturally speaking, they allow for great exposure of the item, due to its use for educational purposes.

I have to admit that I particularly enjoy working with academic libraries. This is because facsimiles are used as tools to teach to appreciate both medieval art and history.

How has technology affected the facsimile-making process?

The coming of digital technology has certainly improved the facsimile-making process as opposed to the previous analogue photographing one; technology has made the whole of the process – from storing, to copying, to producing the facsimile – a lot easier, and gives consistently better end results.

Another good examples of technology advancement that helped production is the invention of no-heat lamps (i.e. lamps that do not generate heat, preventing potential damages to the manuscript), as opposed to the older lamps. Keepers are now more confident with handling of the manuscript during the facsimile production process.

How are facsimile editions still important and useful in an era of digitization?

Facsimiles are still relevant as they have a completely different purpose from digital scans. Digital scans allow a wider access, remotely and for free, and this is a fantastic improvement for scholars and amateurs of manuscripts. Facsimiles, on the other hand, are the best next thing after direct access to the original manuscript: they allow us to appreciate the nature and the physicality of the object, along with the art contained in it.

Although digital scans can give a sense of the art, the perception of the object that they offer can be misleading from several points of view.

How many different editions do you currently sell? What is the most expensive item on your site?

We do not keep a large stock and we mainly work on request; we supply from publishers stock, antiquarian market, and private collectors who wish to sell their collections. The facsimile prices range from $20 to $150,000, some of the most expensive facsimiles being the Dead Sea Copper Scroll ($150,000), the Dead Sea Scrolls ($60,000), and the Vienna Coronation Gospels ($33,000).

Giovanni and Giulia at work!
Giovanni and Giulia at work!

What would you say are your strong points?

Giulia and I have a unique expertise of facsimiles – from production, to distribution, to the understanding of their application in real life.

We have taken part to several classes in Special Collection libraries with students, and answered their questions about facsimiles and their production; these experiences have allowed us to find out how facsimiles are used in the classroom, and we loved how they were blown away by the idea of having such works of art in front of them.

Do you have any future plans/projects?

At the moment we have two big projects in development: first, we are working on a software for libraries which received full support by the world’s leading libraries; the second one is still secret. I’m sure the readers of Medievalists.net will LOVE it, so I’ll make sure to keep you posted!

Thanks so much to Giovanni and Giulia for answering our questions. Please visit their website at http://www.facsimilefinder.com/

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