Think about that for a moment. Why not buy something, if you want it? We have been fortunate in life and can often just buy what we want, within reason. Of course, if we exercised no judgment about what to buy, that capability would erase itself in due course. One need only think of the football player (and this comparison works with real American football, which for the rest of the world is more like armored rugby, and just as well with rest-of-planet football, which involves kicking a ball and lots of 0-0 tied games) who is paid handsomely after rising to the top of his craft, only to be illiquid two years after his last championship season. Don’t Be That Guy, eh.
So for us, the most common reason for not buying something (inability to afford it), is not at play here. It is something we love (a book) about something we’re passionate about (martial history and art), and is a relatively rare opportunity. We’ve certainly spent greater sums than this without blinking, and we may have books that, by virtue of their rarity, approach this one in value.
But… but… it’s $750 for a book. No, wait, wait, we’re wrong, it’s £750 for a book, which is rather largely more. Even with the pound having taken it in the neck lately, it’s still about $1.25 today, making the book almost a thousand dollars.
Ah, but what a book!
The Royal Armouries have teamed up with specialist publishers of military manuscripts Extraordinary Editions to produce a limited edition full-size facsimile of the oldest and most precious book in the Royal Armouries collection, the manuscript I.33. Click here to learn how to order your copy.
The manuscript itself has a remarkable history. Dating from around 1310 the text is the earliest known surviving European Fechtbuch (combat manual). It was first recognised as an ancient source in Heinrich von Gunterrodt’s 1579 book titled De veris principiis artis dimicatoridae (On the True Foundations of the Art of Combat) which gave some insight into the manuscripts history.
The MS I.33, also known as the ‘Walpurgis’ or ‘Tower’ manuscript is thought to have been discovered in a Franconian monastery, passing through several hands and featuring in descriptions of the Saxe-Gotha Ducal holdings in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries before disappearing during the second world war. The manuscript resurfaced and was purchased by the Royal Armouries at Sotheby’s Auction house in 1950.
Comprising of 32 parchment leaves of approximately 30x23cm each, the manuscript is richly illustrated depicting a priest and scholar demonstrating a step by step account of thirty eight combat sequences using a sword and buckler. The illustrations are accompanied by Latin verse describing these combat encounters, with some technical terms in German.
A book of swordsmanship from the turn of the century — the 14th Century. Reproduced in almost unbelievable quality. To support, in part, the Royal Armouries.
The manuscript was conserved and rebound in 2012 in preparation for an exhibition at the Wallace collection in London. This provided the opportunity for the manuscript to be photographed which enabled the production of this beautiful high quality facsimile volume.
Each image was subject to a rigorous digital examination to ensure a highly accurate reproduction of the original was created. The reprographics and printing was completed at the fine art department of Senecio Press and it was trimmed and bound at Ludlow bookbinders.
But then you get to that number:
Royal Armouries Edition – £750
The Royal Armouries Edition is limited to 600 numbered copies, each copy is fully leather bound by hand in a superior weight Nigerian goat skin, with raised bands over wood composite boards. The boards are specially created to replicate traditional binding without the associated problem of warping. The cover is embossed in gold with a figure from the manuscript; the spine is embossed with I.33 and the Royal Armouries and Extraordinary Editions logos.
And, we didn’t mention this, because we were still in atrial fibrillation over the 750 quid price, but that’s the bargain edition. You can spend more.
Exemplary Edition – £1500
There are just 26 lettered copies of the Exemplary edition available, the ideal choice for collectors and bibliophiles. The Exemplary edition is bound in a cover of folded veined vellum over quarter sawn oak boards. The boards have been sourced from 300 year old untouched oak. These stunning materials have been left unadorned in a binding of monastic simplicity suited to the provenance of the original. Inspired by illustrations of the period the Exemplary edition and companion volume are presented together in a bespoke handmade leather folder held by an oak peg.
Now here’s something that makes this cool:
Each copy of the manuscript comes with a companion volume containing a full transcription and translation of each page with an introduction written by Dr Jeffrey L. Forgeng curator at the Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester, Massachusetts who after discovering the manuscript in the Royal Armouries library at the Tower of London set about translating it, publishing his work in 2003 and ultimately becoming the world’s foremost authority on MS I.33. The companion volume is 23x15cm and is limp sewn with a hard cover.
The Higgins Armory Museum, you may recall, was the subject of several reports here. It was absorbed into the Worcester Art Museum and partially liquidated by the end of 2013. Some 2,000 items from the Higgins collection were retained — particularly those thought to be of artistic merit, naturally — and the remainder were auctioned to benefit the Art Museum. Certain of the retained items will be retained, mostly open-storage style, in a gallery made from a former Art Museum library. Higgins’s bespoke cast-iron building still stands, but is deteriorating without maintenance.
Due to the rare nature of these facsimiles Extraordinary Editions will deal with the purchase of all manuscript orders.
And Extraordinary Editions, the producers of this work, is a whole other kettle of custom and rare books, one that we may delve into later. Suffice it to say that it’s a source of many more $1000-dollar books we want, just not $1k worth.
For someone tempted to drop the $1k on the book, here’s a glowing review of it by swordsmanship instructor Guy Windsor, that just might put you over the top. And here’s EE’s own page on the book.