Sunday, February 28, 2010

15th Century Jousting Targes Faced With Stag Horn

Photos by Wendy McLean

The photos are all of a group of harnesses in the Musee de l'Armee, Paris. The Musee is unethusiastic about providing labels for this part of the collection, but the catalogue identifies the center harness in the top photo as a Gestech harness from Ausburg, ca. 1510. You can click on each image for a closer view.

Similar shields are described in a MS published as "Du Costume militaire des Francais en 1446", reproduced in both Cripps-Day and Ffoulkes.
Item: the shields with which they joust in France are made, first, from wood of the thickness of a finger, and reinforced [nervez] within and without for thickness of a finger or less; and the the said reinforcement [nerveure] on the outside is covered with little pieces, the size and shape of the squares of a chess board, made of the hardest material they can find, and they are ordinarily made from stag horn taken near the crown, the very same material used to make nuts for crossbows.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Molly Lewis Covers Poker Face

As John Scalzi noted, this is "pretty darn adorable".

Also covered by Dinosaur Comics.

Amy Bishop Used to Play Dungeons and Dragons

The Boston Globe reports that Amy Bishop, accused of multiple killings at the University of Alabama, used to play D & D heavily in the 1980's.

A source reports. "I remember the time the party was meeting in a tavern, and the hobbit thief reached for the last booster seat, and Amy screamed "I am Dr. Bloodsword Deathsong!" and tried to hit him in the head. Fortunately, she rolled low. In retrospect, maybe we should have paid more attention to her actions at the time"

Thursday, February 25, 2010

15th Century Shield Construction

Later damage to this 15th century shield at the Musée national du Moyen Âge, also known as the Musee Cluny, reveals its multilayer construction. The inner layer is wood, with a visibly beveled edge. Canvas or similar fabric forms another layer. The outermost layer or layers are composed of gesso, and possibly parchment or rawhide beneath that.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A 15th Century Targe

Photos by Wendy McLean

A German targe, ca. 1450, from the Musee de l'Armee, Paris. The eagle depicted on the face is raised into relief with gesso, and the back shows the staples where straps for the neck and arms were once attached. The side view gives a good view of the concave profile of the shield. Clicking on each image will give you an enlarged view.

Note that there is another staple, visible in the side view, towards the bottom of the shield to the left of center that is hidden by the vertical post in the rear view.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Floor Tiles from Sainte-Chapelle, Paris

Photographs by Wendy McLean

I thought these were charming. A friend notes in the comments that these tiles were replacements from the 19th c. restoration, but this source reports that they were copies of the original medieval tiles.

Update: on further research, copies probably exaggerates their fidelity to the original. The medieval tiles of this type only rarely used more than two colors.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Straps for a Targe

Here are two plausible reconstructions of the straps on a medieval targe. I was primarily interested in how such a shield might be used on foot, so I based this reconstruction on pictures in the Codex Wallerstein. That manuscript seems to show two different arrangements for the guige. One, reconstructed on the left, shows the guige attached to the upper rivets of the enarmes. The other, on the right, secures the guige to the shield with two additional rivets somewhat higher on the shield. For combat on foot the first arrangement seems to work significantly better, the lower attachment points allowing the user to control the shield more easily with his shoulder and upper arm.

The Codex Wallerstein only shows vertical enarmes. The Guiron and Lancelot du Lac manuscripts from the 14th century show a horizontal strap between the two lower rivets allowing the user to control the shield while using his reins. I've used both horizontal and vertical enarmes, an arrangement shown in the Romance of Alexander.

The leather that I used, particularly on the left hand targe, is lighter and suppler than than than it should be.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Maillotin de Bours vs. Hector de Flavy 1431

On the 20th day of June in this year, a combat took place in the town of Arras, and in the presence of the duke of Burgundy, between Maillotin de Bours, appellant, and Sir Hector de Flavy, defendant. Maillotin had charged Sir Hector, before the duke of Burgundy, with having said, that he was desirous of becoming the duke's enemy, and of turning to the party of King Charles; and also, that he had required of him to accompany him in his flight, and to seize Guy Guillebaut, the duke's treasurer, or some other wealthy prisoner, to pay for their expenses.

The duke, on this charge, had ordered Maillotin to arrest Sir Hector, and bring him prisoner to Arras, which he did in the following manner. Having received this order, he went, accompanied by a competent number of men, to a village near Corbie called Bonnay, and thence sent to Sir Hector to come to him. Sir Hector, not knowing that any accusations had been made against him, came thither with a very few attendants, for Maillotin had pretended that he wanted only to speak with him; but no sooner did he appear than he laid hands on him, and carried him prisoner to Arras, where he remained in confinement a considerable time. However, by the exertions of his friends, he was conducted to the presence of the duke in Hesdin, when he ably defended himself against the charges brought against him, and declared that it was Maillotin himself who made the proposals that he had mentioned. Words at last ran so high that Maillotin threw down his glove, which Sir Hector, by leave of the prince, took up. The 20th day of June was fixed on for the combat, and there might be forty days before its arrival. Sufficient pledges were mutually given for their due appearance in person on the appointed day.

The duke of Burgundy came from his palace in Arras about ten o'clock of the 20th of June, grandly attended by his nobles and chivalry, to the seat which had been prepared for him in the centre of the lists, in the great market-square, the usual place for tournaments. The Counts de St. Pol, de Ligny, and others of rank, entered the seat with the duke. Two handsome tents were pitched at each end of the lists, and without them were two great chairs of wood for the champions to repose in. That of Maillotin, as appellant, was on the right hand of the duke, and Sir Hector's on the left. Sir Hector's tent was very richly ornamented with sixteen emblazoned quarterings of his arms, and of those of his ancestors, on each side. There was also a representation of a sepulchre, because Sir Hector had been made a knight at the holy sepulchre of Jerusalem.

Shortly afterward, Maillotin was summoned by the king-at-arms to appear in person and fulfill his engagements. About eleven o'clock he left his mansion, accompanied by the lord de Chargny, the lord de Humieres, Sir Peter Quierel Lord de Ramencourt, and many other gentlemen, his relations and friends. He was mounted on a horse covered with the emblazonments of his arms, having on plain armour, his helmet on and his vizor closed, holding in one hand his lance and in the other one of his two swords; for he was provided with two, and a large dagger hanging by his side. His horse was led by the bridle by two knights on foot; and on his arrival at the barriers he made the usual oaths in the hands of Sir James de Brimeu, who had been appointed for the purpose. This done, the barriers were thrown open, and he entered with his companions on foot, who then presented themselves before the duke of Burgundy. After this, he rode to his chair, where he dismounted, and entered his pavilion to repose himself and wait his adversary. The Lord de Chargny, who was his manager to instruct him how to act, entered the tent with him, as did a few of hie confidential friends.

Artois, king-at-arms, now summoned Sir Hector de Flavy in the same manner as he had done the other; and within a quarter of an hour sir Hector left his house and came to the barriers on horseback, fully armed like his opponent, grandly accompanied by gentlemen, among whom were the two sons of the count de St. Pol, Louis and Thibault, who led Sir Hector's horse by the bridle. The other lords followed behind on foot, namely, the Lord d'Antoing, the Vidame of Amiens, John de Flavy brother to Sir Hector, Hugh de Launoy, the Lord de Chargny, the Lord de Saveuses, Sir John de Fosseux, the Lord de Crevecœur, and many more nobles and esquires of rank. On Sir Hector's arrival at the barriers, he took the oath, and then presented himself to the duke. He went to his chair, dismounted, and entered his pavilion. Soon after, they both advanced on foot before the duke, and swore on the Evangelists that their quarrel was good, and that they would combat fairly and then returned again to their pavilions.

Proclamation was now made by the king-at-arms for all persons, under pain of death, to quit the lists, excepting such as had been charged to guard them. The prince had ordered that eight persons on each side, relations or friends of the champions, should remain within the lists unarmed, in addition to the eight that had been before appointed to raise them, or put an end to the combat, according to the prince's pleasure.

The chairs being removed, proclamation was again made for the champions to advance and do their duty. On hearing this, Maillotin de Bours, as appellant, first stepped forth, and then Sir Hector, each grasping their lances handsomely. On their approach, they threw them, but without either hitting. They then, with great signs of courage, drew nearer, and began the combat with swords. Sir Hector, more than once, raised the vizor of his adversary's helmet by his blows, so that his face was plainly seen, which caused the spectators to believe Sir Hector had the best of the combat. Maillotin, however, without being any way discouraged, soon closed it, by striking it down with the pummel of his sword, and retreating a few paces.

The two champions showed the utmost valour; but at this moment, before any blood had been drawn, the duke ordered further proceedings to be stopped, which was instantly done by those who had been commissioned for the purpose. They were commanded to withdraw to their lodgings, which they obeyed, by quitting the lists at opposite ends; and on the morrow they dined at the duke's table, Sir Hector sitting on his right hand. When dinner was over, the duke ordered them, under pain of capital punishment, to attempt nothing further against each other, their friends, or allies, and to lay aside all the malice and hatred that was between them. In confirmation of which, he made them shake hands.

Enguerrand de Monstrelet The chronicles of Enguerrand de Monstrelet tr. Thomas Johnes London, New York, G. Routledge and sons, 1867 v.1 pp 586-587

Lord Scales' Pavilion, 1467

The descripcion of his Pavylon.

Also the Pavylon' of double blewe saton, richely embrowdird with his letters; the valence thereof embrowdird with' his woorde fixid on tymbir werke removable on ev'y quarter. A banner of dyv's his armes in the toppe. A banner fixid of his hole armes. The noombir of the banners on the pavylon .viij. And Seint Georges banner' fixid in the poste of the listes beside the Kynges tente on the right hande, with xv. banners rowes sett on ev'y othir poste of the seide felde, conc'nyng the armes of dyv's lordshippes accordyng to the lyneall' petigree of his discent, with' a bannere.

Excerpta historica: or, Illustrations of English history [edited by Samuel Bentley] London, 1831 p.206

Note the reference to the valence fixed on timber work.

Lord Scales Fights the Bastard of Burgundy on Foot, 1467

In the morough' next aftir, the xjth day of Juyn', before the Kyng in the same feelde; the seide Lorde Scales armed all' save his basenet, his cote on his bak as he did fight upon horsbak, richely beseen', came unto the porte of the seide feelde; his hors trappid to the foote in crymsyn velvet, with vij. targes embrowdird with dyvers his armes of his discent, and oon of all' the hole armes coupbled, fixid on the bak of the seide hors; the seide trapper sumyd with garters richely made and bourdrid withe frenge of goolde. Also thir folowid hym viij. coursours; and upon, viij. pages abiled richely in goldsmythis werke; the seide hors' harneisid in harneis of oon sute. The Duke of Clarence beryng his basenet: Therle of Arundell', Therle of Kent, the Lorde Herry of Bokyngham, M' Bourghchier, the Lorde Herberd, the Lorde Stafford; ev'ych' of them' beryng oon of the wepyns: that is to say, two castyng speres, ij axes and ij daggers. The Constable as before demaundyng the cause of his comyng; he answeryng, to pfourme his Armes on foote in Articles sent to the Bastarde of Bourgon; the Kyng certified thereof, licencid hym to coome into the felde. He there lightyng, came in before the Kyng accompanyed with' many noble lordes; dooyng his dewe reverence to his highnes, resortid to his Pavilon' richely beseene of velewet paly, blewe and tawny; the valence of the seide tente crymesyn' cloth' of goolde; the seide pavylon' beryng in fassion .viij. squares, on ev'ych corner a banner ficchid of his armes; upon the pomell' of the seide pavylon', a gryffyn' of golde holdyng a banner' of his hole armes: his banner holdyn' by Clarenceux Kyng of Armes before his tente.

The Bastarde come ridyng to the barres, and there light', worshupfully accompanyed; before hym the Duke of Suffolk, Therle of Shrewysbury, the Lorde Mountjoy, S' Thomas Mongomery, with many othir lordis: demaundid at the porte of the listes by the Constable as byfore, by the Kynges licence entrid, and came before the Kyng syttyng in his magestee justifieng the feeld; and there with dewe reverence shewid the cause of his comyng, to accomplisshe his seconde Armes as before; and resortid to his pavylon' fixid in feld, in a long gowne of blewe veluet aboute hym, and legge harnesshid, his armes beyng afore in his pavilon', which was of white and purpill' damaske paly; the pomell' of the seide pavylone, gold; the valence of the seide tente, grene velvet, embrowdird with' his worde, that is to say, Null ne cy frete.

And in the meane tyme, the wepyns were p'sentid to the Kyng; the counsell' of bothe pties beyng p'sente. The Kyng beholdyng' the castyng speres right jepdous and right plious, saide, in as muche as it was but an acte of plesaunce, [he] wolde not have noon suche myschevous wepens usid before [him]; and comaundid the seide speres to be leide aparte, and ordeyned the toothir wepens, that is to sey, axes and daggers: the Bastarde to have the chois, accordyng to the Articl'es conteyned in the chapitre.

And then incontinent aftir the pclamacion made as before, the Constable of Englond visitid first the Lorde Scales in his tente, and founde him redy: and than' went unto the Kyng, and shewid that he was redy. And then went the seide Lorde Constable to the Lorde Basterd in his tente. And whan he had so visitid bothe, and shewid them by ij. Kynges of Armes, the Constable then sittyng in the place hym assigned, the seide Kynges of Armes shewyng of them at oo tyme to oothir to p'sente theire charges unto the lordes pavylons waytyng up on the .lesses aler'. all' at oo tyme, the Kyng of Armes spake theis wordes the tyme of lesses aler'. nowe is comaundid to be cried. And then' at the seide Kyng of Armes comyng before the place judiciall', the Kyng comaundid the lesses aler'. And right as the Kyng of Armes made the crye, the Lorde Scales openyd his pavylon'j and at the s'c'de lesses aler' entrid into the felde oute of his tente, and gafe a tarying & bode; and gafe contenaunce that he was redy with hande & fote & axe, in asmuche as he leide his axe upon his shuldre, and eftsones chaungid his axe from honde to hande. And then they avaunsed: and so right' afore the Kyng, either assaillid othir in suche wise, as the Lorde Scales at the recountre with' the poynte of his axe stroke thorugh' oon of the ribbes of the Bastardes plates; as the seid Basterd shewid hym aftir the feeld. And so they fought togidre; the Lorde Scales with the hede of his axe afore, the toothir with' the small end ; and smote many grete combres and thik strokes; till' at the laste that they fill' towardes a closse, at which' tyme the Lorde Scales stroke hym in the side of the visern' of his basenet. Then the Kyng pceyvyng the cruell' assaile, cast his staff, and with' high' voices cried, Whoo ! Notwithstondyng' in the departyng there was yoven .ij. or .iij. grete strokes; and oon of the ascotes stafes brake betwene them'. And they, so departid, were brought' afore the Kynges gode grace. The Lorde Scales fought' with his visern opyn ; which was thought jepdous: the Lorde Bastard fought closid, and there openyd it. And so they were brought up before the Kyng. He commaundid them ych' to take othir by the handes, and to love toogedirs as brethirs in amies; which they so did. And there they immediatly yafe yche to othir as courteis godely and frendely langage as coude be thought*; and went togidre into the middes of the felde. And there depart id iche man' to his loggyng. Finis &c'.1

1 " And on the morrow, at the hour appointed, appeared in the field Mons. the Bastard and Mons. d'Escalles; and my said Lord the Bastard was always accompanied with the Duke of Suffolk, who very heartily accompanied him; and after cries and ceremonies done, Mons. d'Escalles sent three kinds of weapons to present to the King, to furnish and achieve these arms on foot: and of these weapons the Bastard was to have the choice. The two first were two lances to throw, and two Knights bore them: the second were two axes, and two Barons bore them: the third weapons were two ' dagues,' and two Earls bore them. And when these weapons were presented to the Kiug, the King withheld in his hands the two casting-lances, and the four other weapons he sent to Mons. the Bastard, to take his choice according to the contents of the chapters. Mons. the Bastard kept one axe and one dagger, and the rest were brought by the Constable to Mons. d'Escalles. And there came the footscouts (les ecoutes de pie), to wit, six men of arms on foot, in good array, each having a staff of wood in his hand. The Bastard of Burgundy was dressed with his coat of arms, of Burgundy, with a bar traverse, to show that he was a bastard; and the Lord Scales had his coat of arms on his back, and bore his axe on his neck and in guize of an "espieu," and came crying 'Saint George!' three times. The champions set together fiercely, and assailed one another with great courage: and this battle was very fine; I never saw fight with axes so fiercely: and surely Mons. the Bastard showed well that he was a true knight, experienced in arms and in craft. And they were both taken and parted one from the other, without much hurt: and thus were these arms done and accomplished. And in truth, I saw afterward the harness of Mons. d'Escalles, where Mons. the Bastard had made great gashes with the under-point of his axe, {de la dague de dessous de sa hache): and as to the daggers that were given to them, they did not use them in this battle. And so the champions took leave of the King, and went away both at one time from the lists, their axes on their necks, to show that they had not been unweaponed: and so each retired to his lodging."—Olivier de la Marche, p. 492-3.

Excerpta historica: or, Illustrations of English history [edited by Samuel Bentley] London, 1831 pp. 210-212


"Now were the sticklers in a readinesse, and the combattors with their weapons drawne fell to it, so that betwixt them were striken six or seuen blowes right lustilie."

Raphael Holinshed Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland London, 1587, Volume 6, p. 992 (describing a 1548 duel)

"Thus talked Basilius with Zelmane, glad to make any matter I subject to speake of, with his mistresse, while Phalantus in this pompous manner, brought Artesia with her gentlewomen, into one Tent, by which he had another: where they both wayted who would first strike upon the shielde, while Basilius the Judge appointed sticklers, and trumpets, to whom the other should obey."

"But Basilius rising himselfe to parte them, the sticklers authoritie scarslie able to perswade cholerike hearers; and parte them he did."

Sir Philip Sydney The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia Cambridge 1912 (First printed 1590)

"A stickler betweene two, so called as putting a sticke or staffe betweene two fighting or fencing together."

John Minsheu, Ductor in Linguas 1617

This seems very similar to:

"But the two lieutenants shall have in their hands either one a spear without iron to separate them if the king will make them leave off in their fighting, whether it be to rest them or other thing whatsoever pleases him."

The Ordinance and Form of Fighting Within Lists

These men are called ascotes in the contemporary English account of the combat between Lord Scales and the Bastard of Burgundy, and écoutes in de la Marche's account of the same combat, as well as in descriptions of other combats on the continent.

"I styckyll between wrastellers (wrestlers) or any folkes that prove mastries, to see that none do other wronge, or I part folke that be renay to fight. Je me mets entre deux."

John Palsgrave L'esclarcissement de la langue francoyse London 1530

The earliest example of stickle or stickler in this sense that I can find is Palsgrave, in the context of wresting, and umpires in Cornish wrestling are still called sticklers, and still carry sticks.

A scrupulous umpire would be strict and unyielding in the application of the rules, and so we see the roots of stickler in the ordinary sense used today.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Newton and Hamilton, Scottish Gentlemen, Accuse Each Other, 1548

The eight and twentith of Maie, his lordship wan the castell of Yester, after he had beaten it right sore with terrible batterie of canon shot for the time it lasted, and therewith hauing made a reasonable breach for the soldiers to enter, they within yéelded with condition to haue their liues saued: which the lord Greie was contented to grant to them all, one onelie excepted, who during the siege vttered vnséemelie words of the king, abusing his maiesties name with vile and most opprobrious termes. They all comming foorth of the castell in their shirts, hum|bled themselues to my lord Greie (as became them) and vpon strait examination who should be the rai|ler that was excepted out of the pardon, it was knowne to be one Newton a Scot: but he to saue himselfe, put it to one Hamilton, and so these two gentlemen accusing one an other, the truth could not be decided otherwise than by a combat, which they required, and my lord Greie therevnto assented, and pronounced iudgement so to haue it tried: which he did the rather, bicause all men doo séeme resolute in the triall of truth (as in a verie good cause) by losse of life to gaine an endlesse name; as one saith:

Mors spernenda viris vt fama perennis alatur.
At the appointed time they entered the lists, set vp for that purpose in the market place of Hading|ton, without other apparell sauing their doublets and hosen, weaponed with sword, buckler and dag|ger. At the first entrie into the lists, Hamilton kneeling downe, made his hartie praier to God, that it might please him to giue victorie vnto the truth, with solemne protestation that he neuer vttred anie such words of king Edward of England, as his ad|uersarie charged him with. On the other side New|ton being troubled (as it séemed) with his false accu|sation, argued vnto the beholders his guiltie conscience. Now were the sticklers in a readinesse, and the combattors with their weapons drawne fell to it, so that betwixt them were striken six or seuen blowes right lustilie. But Hamilton being verie fierce and egre, vpon trust of his innocencie, constreined Newton to giue ground almost to the end of the lists; and if he had driuen him to the end in déed, then by the law of armes he had woone the victorie. Newton perceiuing himselfe to be almost at point to be thus ouercome, stept forwards againe, and gaue Hamilton such a gash on the leg, that he was not able longer to stand, but fell therewith downe to the ground, and then Newton falling on him, incontinentlie slue him with a dagger.

There were gentlemen present that knowing as they tooke it for certeine, how Newton was the offendor (although fortune had fauoured him in the combat) would gladlie haue ventured their liues a|gainst him man for man, if it might haue béene granted: but he chalenging the law of armes, had it granted by my lord Greie, who gaue him also his owne gowne beside his owne backe, and a chaine of gold which he then ware. Thus was he well rewar|ded how so euer he deserued:. but he escaped not so, for afterwards as he was riding betwixt the borders of both the realms, he was slaine and cut in péeces.

Raphael Holinshed Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland London, 1587, Volume 6, pp. 992-993

Snowpocalypse III: Snow Daleks Attack!

I for one welcome our cold white frosty overlords...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Benvenuto C

If Benvenunto Cellini was alive today, he’d be the kind of artist that goes to a club with a loaded pistol in their waistband.

He had, however, decided to do one or other of two things—either to have me assassinated, or to have me taken up by the Bargello. Accordingly he commissioned a certain little devil of a Corsican soldier in his service to do the trick as cleverly as he could; and my other enemies, with Messer Traiano at the head of them, promised the fellow a reward of one hundred crowns. He assured them that the job would be as easy as sucking a fresh egg. Seeing into their plot, I went about with my eyes open and with good attendance, wearing an under-coat and armlets of mail, for which I had obtained permission.

The Corsican, influenced by avarice, hoped to gain the whole sum of money without risk, and imagined himself capable of carrying the matter through alone. Consequently, one day after dinner, he had me sent for in the name of Signor Pier Luigi. I went off at once, because his lordship had spoken of wanting to order several big silver vases. Leaving my home in a hurry, armed however as usual, I walked rapidly through Strada Giulia toward the Palazzo Farnese, not expecting to meet anybody at that hour of day. I had reached the end of the street and was making toward the palace, when, my habit being always to turn the corners wide, I observed the Corsican get up and take his station in the middle of the road. Being prepared, I was not in the least disconcerted; but kept upon my guard, and slackening pace a little, drew nearer toward the wall, in order to give the fellow a wide berth. He on his side came closer to the wall, and when we were now within a short distance of each other, I perceived by his gestures that he had it in his mind to do me a mischief, and seeing me alone thus, thought he should succeed. Accordingly, I began to speak and said: "Brave soldier, if it had been night, you might have said you had mistaken me, but since it is full day, you know well enough who I am. I never had anything to do with you, and never injured you, but should be well disposed to do you service." He replied in a highspirited way, without, however, making room for me to pass, that he did not know what I was saying. Then I answered: "I know very well indeed what you want, and what you are saying; but the job which you have taken in hand is more dangerous and difficult than you imagine, and may peradventure turn out the wrong way for you. Remember that you have to do with a man who would defend himself against a hundred; and the adventure you are on is not esteemed by men of courage like yourself." Meanwhile I also was looking black as thunder, and each of us had changed colour. Folk too gathered round us, for it had become clear that our words meant swords and daggers. He then, not having the spirit to lay hands on me, cried out: "We shall meet another time." I answered: "I am always glad to meet honest men and those who show themselves as such."

“…my habit always being to turn the corners wide” I’ll bet it was.

Benvenuto Cellini; The life of Benvenuto Cellini tr. John Addington Symonds New York: Scribner's; London: Macmillan, 1920

St. George at Hradcany Castle, Prague

Here is a splendid album of photos.

Celebrating the Snowpocalypse II: Adorable Japanese Robotic Snowplow

From the nation that brought Pikachu. And Robots. An adorable robot snowplow that excretes bricks of compacted snow.

To Celebrate the Snowpocalypse...

..the Calvin and Hobbes Snow Art Gallery

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Amazonian Economics

Let me explain the interesting economics of Amazon.

First, there are the physical books. Amazon saves a lot of money by not having physical stores where you can get a book in your hand instantly. So there are two downsides for the customer: you have to wait, and unless you spend at least $25 at a time, you pay shipping on top of the price of the book.

Amazon needs to discount from the bookstore price to make up for this. But Amazon’s discount isn’t across the board. Instead, Amazon has carefully designed their discounts to give the maximum amount of grief to their competition. Amazon seems to be selling best sellers and most first release hardbacks at about what they pay the publisher. They cover their marginal coat but not their overhead. They make a profit on everything else.

These are exactly the categories that would be most profitable for a physical bookstore per inch of shelf space, if Amazon wasn’t using it as a loss leader.

In ebooks, Amazon is even more aggressive. As far as I can tell, at the wholesale pricing in effect at the time Amazon delisted Macmillan, Amazon chose to lose money in the bestseller/hardback new release category on every copy they sold at $9.99. (Amazon set the retail price)

But you need to understand that Amazon was bribing you to commit to Kindle. It's very similar to the one dollar books offered for signing up to the Book of the Month Club. Once you have committed to Kindle, it's easy to use it as your default option for ebooks, and harder to buy them anywhere else. Amazon expects to make back their initial investment back later.

There are other ways to offer a similar inducement. Amazon might, for example, sell the Kindle hardware for less than they charge now.

From Amazon's standpoint, the artificial discount on e-books has two advantages. First, they could eliminate or reduce it at any time. In contrast, if they sell an individual Kindle at a lower price they can never get that lost revenue back.

Second, the discounted ebooks make it harder for Amazon's competition to stay in business.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Helping the Authors

Amazon is slooooooooooooooooooooooooowly reversing their massive delisting of Macmillan authors. With great power comes great responsibility, Amazon.

John Scalzi has a very generous post on what you can do to help the authors suffering collateral damage.

They include Gene Wolfe and Charlie Stross, to name two of my favorites, although they probably aren't the ones that need the money most.

Here is a list of authors published by Tor, one of the Macmillan imprints.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Googling for Medievalists

You can significantly increase your recall rate by searching on alternative medieval spellings for your target. For example, instead of

Seneschal Hainault


Seneschal OR senechal OR senescal OR senescall OR senescallum
Hainault OR Hainaut OR Haynau OR Hynnault OR Henaud OR Henaude

I've started building a thesaurus file of alternate spellings of names and words of interest to me. I can paste them into the Google search panel as needed. If you want words that aren't proper names, the Middle English Dictionary is a good resource, and there are middle French dictionaries online as well.