22 February, 2007

Selfmarks

A good illustration of how jealously such hard-earned manuscript information could be guarded is the practice of Ludwig Bertalot. As we have seen, Bertalot took an interest in Kristeller when Kristeller first came to work on Ficino in the early 1930s. After Mussolini promulgated his anti-Jewish legislation in September 1938, Bertalot temporarily took Kristeller into his home and helped him financially by hiring him as an assistant. Kristeller was forever grateful for this help in his moment of need. From this association Kristeller knew that, when publishing information about manuscripts, Bertalot used to add a small error to their shelfmark so that he could expose in spectacular fashion anyone who cited these manuscripts from his publications without giving him credit. In 1975, in one of his several acts of pietas toward his old benefactor, Kristeller edited Bertalot's collected articles in two volumes. He took pains to verify Bertalot's shelfmarks. But Bertalot struck from the grave nonetheless. Demonstrating how no good deed goes unpunished, in the case of several manuscripts Bertalot cleverly fooled Kristeller by citing their shelfmarks correctly while transposing the authors of the texts they contain so that descriptions and shelfmarks did not match.

— John Monfasani, 'Kristeller and Manuscripts' in idem, ed. Kristeller Reconsidered (2006). More academic one-upmanship here.

8 comments:

Gawain said...

what on earth is a selfmark?

(these word verification codes defeat me)

Language said...

A shelfmark (in the words of the OED, which actually prefers the term press-mark) is "a mark or number written or stamped in or on each book (now usually on the inside of the cover), and also given in the library catalogue, specifying the room, book-press, book-case, shelf, etc., where the book is kept. Now chiefly with reference to manuscripts and early books in old libraries."

"Selfmark" is Conrad's clever invention denoting a shelfmark that has been altered to create a variant that is decipherable only by the marker him- or herself.

Otto van Karajanstein said...

Is that the scholarly equivalent of the purple nurple or the pantsing?

I wonder, was he fooling us intentionally and Kirsteller inadvertently, or was it the other way around? Or neither or both?

Anonymous said...

I think language has got it. I use them myself on my work. I now have a good name for them and will make a note of it in my portfolio. "Conrad Selfmark".

Conrad H. Roth said...

I think so, Otto: in any event I imagine Bertalot as the clown whose dead body is still squirting water at moist-eyed mourners.

Gawain said...

cute.
nice story, too.

Shawn Thuris said...

It is said by lifelong Angelenos that Thomas Brothers, the company whose maps of Los Angeles are the gold standard, inserts one small error onto every page of their books. An imaginary street to nowhere is not serious enough to lead drivers astray (since no one would be searching for that street), but enough to identify cartographic plagiarism.

Language said...

There is a discussion of fake streets on Thomas maps, as well as other such japery, in this LH thread.