Facsimile trasmission

A mode of telecommunication that facilitates the transmission of fixed images to another party for reproduction in paper form.

The first facsimile in the history of the book was a manuscript of Austrian provenance—the Goldene Bulle—reproduced in 1697 by the Frankfurt law historian Heinrich Günther Thülemeyer and Johann Friedrich Fleischer; based on King Wenceslaus’ deluxe presentation manuscript, this copper plate reproduction reflects the means and possibilites available to the printer in the 17th century.

Although we can speak of this 1697 reproduction as possibly the first facsimile edition in the history of the book, in relation to our modern understanding of this genre, there were already elements and ideas of the facsimile in the history of Western printing. The desire to reproduce an accurate copy can be traced back further. From the very beginning of printing both the texts and images of the manuscript were emulated in the printed version. The manuscript exemplars were imitated and sympathized. This was true not only for decorations and illuminations but also for type styles. Especially striking examples are the block books (Blockbücher) which were printed entirely from wood blocks. Ligatures and abbreviations were used equally in print and codices. The fact that the unique manuscripts of scriptoriums and illuminators could find, through printing, unbelievable dissemination, was a sensational feat. In this regard it is amazing that manuscripts were distinctive even though their structure and form were restricted by typological content.

Naturally in the foreground here was not the phenomenon of the magnificent uniqueness of the exemplar, as in today’s concept, but the desire to disseminate a self-contained body of knowledge.

A turning point occurred in the 17th century. The preservation of special codices was the first concern for reproduction. Around 1642 there was an attempt to reproduce the miniatures of the “Vergilius Vaticanus (Vat. lat. 3225)” through copper engravings. The Vergil manuscripts from late antiquity appear to be generally the earliest to have stimulated interest as facsimile candidates. So we possess an important piece of text from the Aeneis, thanks to the efforts to have a true reproduction of a single leave of “Vergilius Augusteus” (now lost) in Mabillon’s De re diplomatica, which allows us to correctly order the fragment of the manuscript—presently in Berlin and the Vatican—as a component in the reconstruction of the original manuscript. Other early trials to make facsimiles of parts of a manuscript include the miniatures from the “Leges Palatinae” of James III of Mallorca in 1701 in the monumental work of Acta sanctorum.

The decisive advancement in the history of the book type we are addressing here occurred finally in the 19th century with the development of a new printing technique that took advantage of photographic methods to serve the antique book. The development of lithography as a printing process by the Prague printer Senefelder and the subsequent evolution of the printing process known as Lichtdruck (collotype) as the oldest of all facsimile techniques made it suddenly possible to introduce, in printing, photographic halftones (grey tones). The possibility of making facsimiles in the modern sense was born. Hand-made copies no longer would suffice to reproduce a page of a manuscript, but rather the direct application of an uncorrupted photographic image became the basis of the work of the printer. Without these older reproduction methods the most commonly used lithographic process for making facsimiles today, the “offset” process, would be unthinkable.

Naturally all this work is only possible and feasible if the term “facsimile” is clearly defined. The concept and definition of the facsimile as ADEVA has realized it for more than 30 years is also a concept that has been adopted by all the other younger publishers of facsimiles in the German-speaking sphere, namely in Austria, Germany and Switzerland—an amazing accomplishment.

This definition of a facsimile as it is construed today and, in general, acknowledged, encompasses the following elements:

A facsimile edition is the photo-mechanical reproduction of a unique, practically two-dimensional model; it eliminates as much as possible manual copy work, reflects to the highest degree the inner and outer aspects of the original, incorporates all possible technical means available, garantees the protection and preservation of the original, and is suitable for both scientific and artistic interests. A facsimile must act as a true surrogate of the original for research purposes and bibliophiles.

Thus, the essential criteria are: a facsimile is a reproduction of a unique source. In contrast to a reprint, a facsimile is also always a first edition of a manuscript. It should never reproduce only a portion of the manuscript or its decoration. Completeness is as indispensable as the original format is. Accuracy to the original color tones, as much as modern techniques allow, is obvious but the thoughtful publisher and printer will make an attempt to maintain other aspects as well, such as the fascicle layout of the manuscript and points that can be decisive for a detailed study and can serve as scientific proofs. It must be possible for a scholar to work from the facsimile without using the original, thus saving it from further hardships. The type of printing process is not included among these criteria, as it is possible today to produce a facsimile using a variety of printing techniques and methods.

If the offset printing process in its more refined form firmly established itself as the facsimile process, it is not only thanks to the pioneering work that ADEVA has performed over the last 30 years, but also because the technical possibilities of modern reproduction process could be employed in the most economical way. The facsimile edition of a manuscript becomes then only meaningful if it is accessible to the researcher, and that means acquirable as well.

The facsimile has captured a firm place in modern book publishing and the contents of the old book in its formal presence become interesting again through its new appearance. At any time now a collection can be assembled, which in its fullness and contents far surpasses the imagination of the greatest bibliophiles of the past.