Stolen Reputations

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Leiden, June 1634

 

Bonaventure Elzevir was a happy man as he bustled towards the bookshop nestled in the grounds of Leiden University which he owned with his nephew Abraham. The high sun shone down on Bonaventure’s stylish black breeches and doublet, white shirt and wide lace collar, plump frame, and his warm and genial face, a tool which helped when befriending the best scholars in Europe in order to find promising manuscripts and convincing merchants and nobles to buy the resulting books. His shop, a small building sporting a couple of large windows covered with thin vellum, smelling heavily of rag paper, ink, and leather, had been built fifty years before by his father after the Spanish had forced his family first from Antwerp and then from Wesel and Douai. One entrance, usually used by scholars or customers, led straight to the office, and the other, which Bonaventure preferred to use so he could examine his domain, straight through the workshop. Unlike most publishers, who had to send their books out to printers, increasing the cost of their books and slowing their ability to produce more, he had six presses, purchased from his nephew Isaac 10 years ago. They were housed in a slightly larger nearby building that sported similar large vellum-covered windows, always smelled of ink, and seemed to constantly quake from the action of the presses. Thinking about Isaac still brought a twinge of pain. Isaac had sold the presses and building to buy a commision in the Dutch navy and had been murdered the year before by the loathsome Spanish and the traitorous French and English. It was at that larger building, purchased from his late younger brother, that Abraham spent most of his time, overseeing the printing to his meticulous standards and producing sheets that were works of art, while Bonaventure made sure the books were exquisitely bound and found homes on the best and most lucrative shelves in Europe.

SR-bkstrWhile he was trying to place some of his wares on those shelves, his family’s world had been altered forever. Bonaventure had traveled to the 1633 Frankfurt-am-Main fair with a new treasure to sell, the New Testament in Greek, compiled from some of the oldest versions of the Bible available. He had expected to receive a large number of orders for the exquisite book, but the fair had been a disappointment. The book had sold some copies and made a small profit, but not nearly what his house had hoped for, and most galling of all, the most exquisite and desired books at the fair were the ones claiming to come from a place called Grantville, and a future that would not be. There were a great many rumors swirling around Grantville, some claiming they were sent by the devil, others claiming they were sent by the Almighty, and all claimed there were wonders beyond belief to be found there, including a multitude of books that were higher quality than any his family could produce. Other tales, including the story of the so-named up-timers burning Spanish troops with unquenchable fire in a castle, had brought a grin to Bonaventure’s face, while the sight of the books from Grantville had quelled it and left him feeling sickly and ashamed. After the fair, he had chosen to travel home with a side journey to Grantville, trying to sell his wares along the way to lessen the blow of the disappointing fair and to see what wonders he could find that he could use to the glory of his house.

The rumors had been an understatement. He had been taken aback by the sheer number of books in Grantville. He produced maybe a handful of copies of 30-50 books a year, with maybe a few dozen of a new work, but Grantville had thousands upon thousands of them. There were books even left carelessly in taverns or in places of business for customers to read. Not mere cheap pamphlets, though there were plenty of those which the up-timers called magazines, journals, and newspapers, but books. Many were bound in a matter that was only a small step up from a pamphlet, but there were a handful of books so finely bound that it had made him weep from despair. He had seen earlier at the fair that the quality of the books made the offerings of his house look like the work of apprentices. The multitude of books had driven home the danger that his house was in if he did not obtain any books to publish in Grantville. He had expected to search all over town to find interesting books to copy and inquired at the inn he chose to stay at, The Maddened Queen, so chosen because he had been told it was preferred by scholars at the fair who had been to Grantville as well as its connection to the Crucibellus letters. He was informed that fortunately the up-timers kept the texts that would most appeal to the faculty and students of Leiden University at the National Library, so after settling into his room, he traveled directly there. Oddly, a few people at the inn seemed to recognize his name, but he was too overwhelmed by the wonders of Grantville and worries about his house’s future to inquire why.

But while thumbing through a promising-looking book of anatomy at the National Library, an unusual etching on the frontispiece had caught his eye. It was an unmistakable picture of an elm tree wrapped by a grape vine, with a figure standing next to the tree and the words non solus appearing on the opposite side of the tree. He had nearly dropped the book in surprise. It was le Solitaire, the device his family put on many items printed by Abraham and Isaac before him, and the name Elsevier was above it. The book, Gray’s Anatomy, wasn’t the only one in the library to bear the publishing mark of his house. It seemed like half of the journal section and a number of the books bore le Solitaire and the name of his house. Now he knew why people at the inn had recognized his name. He had been trembling when he approached the research desk, asking to know more about the history of the publisher of the book and his family. The librarian had appeared about to faint when he revealed his name and had guided Bonaventure to several Elsevier texts which had sold well at the spring Frankfurt fair.

SR-bkfrAfter returning home, Bonaventure had closely followed the news from Grantville and the rest of the Dutch Republic. The year had been a heavy one but familiar to his family, with one nephew killed by treachery in battle and the other forced to flee from the siege of Amsterdam with the clothes on his back. But there was good news. The up-timers had kept the Spanish from destroying the Dutch Republic entirely, and they had devastated the treacherous French, orchestrators of Isaac’s death, in battle on both land and sea. Other news of the up-timers had brought a smile to his face.  Bonaventure had been secretly gloating when the up-timers had persuaded the United States of Europe to adopt their laws on copyright. While some claimed you could not own items produced by yourself in the future that was not to be, clearly a portion of the rights on all of those valuable publications belonged to him and Abraham. In fact, his family should have first claim on the right to print them, not those shops in Grantville. It was clear to him that his and Abraham’s exacting standards had paid off, for his house was a giant in publishing in that future that would not be. The solicitor had drafted the lawsuits already. All that was needed was the proof that Elsevier was founded by his family.

He had barely entered the building when shouting erupted from the office he shared with his nephew Abraham when his nephew wasn’t overseeing the printshop to his exacting standards. Several of the handful of journeymen and apprentices working at large tables in the bright, airy shop flinched and buried themselves deeper into their proofreading or bookbinding, while others looked around to find the source of the shouting. Just then a heavy-set man wearing disheveled ink-smudged clothes burst out of the office. “Those bastards! Those backstabbing, thieving bastards!” Abraham shouted over and over again as he waved a packet of documents in his hand.

Bonaventure quickly walked over, seeking to calm him down, a frequent task with his mercurial, exacting nephew. “What is wrong, Abraham? Did someone steal the university contract from us? Did someone copy our recent edition of the New Testament?”

SR-nwtstmnt“We received a response from Grantville about the history of our family and the print house Elsevier.” Abraham replied as he slammed the offending documents down on a work table. “The documents state that you and I were the peak of our family’s success. We were most renowned for our editions of the New Testament in the original Greek and a book printed 4 years from now written by Galileo after the Papists forbade him from writing. Several of our sons and nephews carried on our business, but were not as successful and by 1712 our family left the printing and bookselling trades.” A young journeyman bearing a close resemblance to Abraham and Bonaventure carefully kept his attention on the pages he was binding. Louis Elzevir knew now was not the time to attract his cousin’s or even his uncle’s notice. He had gone to Amsterdam to learn new techniques and get away from his family’s main shop, but then the Spanish had changed his plans. He chafed to be elsewhere once more, but knew a return to Amsterdam would be unlikely, for those who had fled the siege had not been warmly welcomed back.

“If our family stopped printing in 1712, why do the up-timers have hosts of books printed under our name using our device? Who printed them?” asked Bonaventure in a confused and worried tone. He swept his hand out towards the shop. “Did someone trained by our house borrow the name and device?” He could see all of the publications he thought his family had claim to disappearing in his head, along with the fortune that came with them. Dark thoughts flashed in his mind towards the group of journeymen and apprentices. Did one of them steal the name and device, or did they carry it on with the family’s blessing?

“A group of thieves in Amsterdam started publishing in 1880 using our name, mark, and reputation.” Abraham spat out and slapped his hand on the papers. “We were famed for publishing works in Greek and Latin, as well as books of natural philosophy. They took that reputation and started publishing scholarly works in a variety of fields. Those bastards built an empire on our good name. I know the up-timers claim ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,’ but we were robbed.”

Bonaventure walked over to his agitated nephew and draped an arm across his shoulder, and with the other grabbed the documents in question. Although he was still reeling from the news, as the older member of the partnership, he was expected to be the rock to his nephew, although only 10 years separated them. He also wanted to review the documents himself. He then steered Abraham into the office, closing the door behind them, and started pouring a measure of ginever for each of them to soften the blow of the terrible news.

After a bottle or two, a thought struck Bonaventure. “That other firm built a reputation for publishing scholarly works. While we have no claim to what they published, we may be able to use their reputation just as they stole ours. The up-timers know Elsevier as the place to send scholarly articles and report new discoveries in natural philosophy.” His arm swept out to the case of exquisitely bound books. “They will want us to print and sell their books.”

“Start publishing academic articles? Solicit them from different universities? Would we have to produce masses of mere pamphlets?” Abraham slurred drunkenly as he reached for the bottle again. His arm brushed some of the documents and letters on the table in the office. “Would that weaken our contract with Leiden University and our reputation as booksellers?”

“Not if we use it as a way to raise Leiden’s prestige and access to knowledge. The university is less than 50 years old, although it is well-funded and has attracted some prestigious scholars. We can become the avenue to circulate discoveries and hold academic debates with distant scholars. We will not sell mere pamphlets—we will produce high-quality journals with fine illustrations. The up-timers used those to quickly circulate new knowledge. The fact that we are associated with a university will just enhance our access to scholars and scholarly reports.” Bonaventure leafed through some of the papers on the table. “Several groups in Grantville, including the Bibelgesellschaft, the high school, and the Grange have sent works to be published. We can even suggest that we become the place to reprint scholarly reports in order to circulate them among the scholars of Europe.”

Abraham cupped his chin in his hand. “We’ll need to figure out some way to produce those fine illustrations. Those up-time reports have a lot of complicated illustrations as do the new ones written in Grantville. They will be difficult to engrave.”

“We may not have to engrave. The up-timers have a whole host of ways to print. Little Louis is a journeyman and will soon be ready to run his own shop. The historians claimed he would do so in 4 years’ time. Your son Jean is 12. It is time to begin an apprenticeship. I know you planned to send him to France, but perhaps it would be better to have him train in Grantville or perhaps Jena if no one in Grantville will take him. We can ask Little Louis to escort Jean to Grantville so they can both learn new techniques and bring them back here. If Louis does so, we will happily vouch for him so he can become a master sooner than expected when he brings back new techniques. If he sets up his own shop, whether in Grantville, Jena, or Amsterdam, hopefully it will be closely affiliated with our shop.” The two men exchanged bemused glances. While they knew Louis would welcome the chance to truly journey again, he would not enjoy traveling with his temperamental and imaginative young cousin.

Abraham grinned and brushed the papers from Grantville with his hand. “Maybe those thieves did us a favor after all. They stole our reputation and we can in turn steal theirs.” Abraham raised his glass as did Bonaventure. “May our kinsmen be more successful than in the future the up-timers came from.”

****

Biographical information taken from: Edmund Goldsmid A Complete Catalogue of All the Publications of the Elzevier Presses at Leyden, Amsterdam, the Hague, and Utrecht: With Introduction, Notes, and an Appendix Containing a List of All Works, Whether Forgeries Or Anonymous Publications, Generally Attributed to These Presses. Private Printer 1885. Published online by Harvard University 2007.

 

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2 thoughts on “Stolen Reputations

  1. Charles K. Alexander II

    Although it could have used a bit closer copy editing (“throughout the scholars of Europe?!?”), this was a very cool, nicely circular story. Having worked in a library myself, I can well imagine some of the uptime librarians and scholars going gaga upon meeting the family on which the Elsevier B.V. empire was based, if not built.

  2. wiley coyote

    Word Thieves?
    Having failed and won a few times at getting PR published–
    I Like these Guys getting drunk in the office and sending their Best and Troublesome Kinder off to Grantville and Jena! God Bless the Unlucky Academics and Practical Souls in Both Towns!
    I Love Books! Old-Fashioned paper and binding and Ink on Paper!
    So, in our 1630’s Universe, Let’s encourage the Women with their Harquins
    BUT!
    Keep A Good Shop going with all the New Stuff Developing!
    And, MAD AV? Keep the Editors and Writers Drinking and Talking in a Few Bars!
    Get some stories developed out of 1920’s Alquonin , etc.!
    Wc

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