The world is full of books. That is to say, full of copies. Whether printed or made by hand, what sustains a book culture is not the original books, the archetypes, the autographs, but their multiple copies, and an autograph’s success is measured not by any intrinsic value, but by its ability to produce copies. Its success lies outside of itself.
As the manuscript written in the author’s own hand, an autograph represents ground zero of an editorial project.
In the age of print, autographs don’t circulate. They go straight to the author’s archive and later, if they make history, they might find a place in a public library or exhibition. In the age of scribes, however, autographs always circulated. Sometimes a book was its autograph, and most books written in the Middle Ages weren’t copied.
The long tail of the market was made up of autographs devoid of copies. These are the books most unlikely to have reached us. It is those who didn’t make it through time, where the friction of each age pulled their life expectancy down.
Discovering an autograph manuscript is like coming home, like rewinding the tape to the start of the roll. But for all the books of the ancient world, there is no homecoming, as the autographs have been lost. The books we have today, the manuscripts and the printed books produced through the ages, are mere glimmers of those books that started the journey, miles and centuries ago, beacons of light the world and carry humanity on their shoulders, wrapped within their covers.