Letters from Armorica- Cumbrian Classics (25 Juillet 33AF)

First Letter

Dear Aunt Maggie,

I dined with M. Fournier the bookseller again this past week, a simple meal of ox-tail soup and crusty rolls. As we ate he spoke further of his plan for the literary domination of Mont-Havre by means of selling books to speakers of Cumbrian.

I brought with me a list of Cumbrian authors and titles, both recognized classics and more modern works—everything I could remember from my own shelves at home. I listed as many of Thomas Becker's books as I could recall, including all of his Dorchester books; vast swathes of Dikkons, including The Mystery of David Silverfish, Ethel, and The Pirate's Daughter; and Whelkie's The Sunstone and The Gentleman in Scarlet. Nor did I neglect the Cumbrian drama, as the people of Mont-Havre greatly enjoy the theater of an evening. I especially encouraged him to acquire copies of Maltspire's First, Second, and Third Folios. Master Maltspire is not much thought of in Yorke these days, but I have always enjoyed him; and from what I have learned of the Armoricans I think he will speak to them in a way that the jaded of Yorke can no longer hear.

After we had gone over my list, M. Fournier went on to complain about the cost of importing books from the Old Worlds. Even the cheapest volumes, as sold by M. Harte, are priced out of a common laborer's reach. Properly bound volumes on good paper are affordable only by the wealthy…or, I suppose, by eccentrics like myself. As a merchant, M. Fournier wishes to sell many more books, specifically many more than M. Harte; as a lover of books, he wishes to sell much better books than M. Harte, at a price that working men can afford.

I asked him whether he had considered printing books locally. He had, of course. But he says it would be an ambitious undertaking to print even one book, and that for two reasons: typesetting, and the cost of procuring manuscripts.

Paper is available, of course, as witness the ledgers I deal with each day, and there are printing presses enough for handbills and broadsheets and the like. But the printers of Mont-Havre are all accustomed to printing individual pages. None of them have sufficient type to typeset an entire book. Type must be ordered from abroad, and is exceedingly expensive. (One could, of course, typeset a single page, print many copies, and then reuse the type to set the subsequent page, and so on until the book is complete. But that would make subsequent printings as expensive as the first…or to wasting a great deal of paper if a print run didn't sell.)

In Yorke, and I imagine in Toulouse as well, I gather that books are printed not from movable type but from plates, one plate per page. A page is typeset, and a suitably proficient member of the Former's Guild produces a plate from the typeset page. It is tedious work, I am reliably informed, but also a steady income. But formers are few in Mont-Havre, much in demand, and not accustomed to such work.

And then, as to manuscripts, there are no authors in Armorica, at least not yet; and as the founding charter of the colony, written before the Pont Neuf set sail with the first load of colonists, requires that the colony respect Provençese copyrights, M. Fournier cannot simply print his own copies of the books he imports, even if the printing capability were available. It is not that he has qualms about Provençese copyrights, he told me, but that the Guilde du Papeterie in Toulouse might choose to sue him in an Armorican court…or, worse, refuse to sell him any more books.

It has perhaps not escaped M. Fournier that there is no such requirement in Armorican law with respect to books printed in Cumbria.

Your nephew,


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photo credit: Dean Hochman paperbacks via photopin (license)

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