Vatican ms orders received

On May 19th I ordered reproductions of two manuscripts of the unpublished Arabic Christian historian al-Makin from the Vatican.  I didn’t receive any acknowledgement, so wasn’t expecting much.  Anyhow a UPS man arrived a few minutes ago, bearing a parcel.  So it took just under 7 weeks to get, from posting the order to now.  That’s really not too bad.

Less good is the payment arrangements.  They’ve sent me an invoice, which has an international bank account number (IBAN) and a SWIFT number on it, so I can do a bank-to-bank transfer.  These are marvellously expensive things to do from the UK (because the banks rip you off).  There seems no facility to do a credit card payment.

The images arrived as two PDF’s  — which is good.  The images are scanned from black-and-white (not even monochrome) microfilm — which is terrible.   The consumer really should be protected from this rip-off racket of selling substandard images at very premium prices.  The price for the two mss. was 215 euros; the charge for postage and packing was 15 euros; quite a bit for 43Mb of data, which could perfectly well have been made available for download. 

Of course the library is profiteering pretty heavily here.  The microfilms already existed, so to produce these PDF’s required them to load them in a microfilm scanner, hit “scan”, and go and have a coffee.  200 euros for a trivial bit of work; nice if you can get it, eh?

I was amused to find a “copyright” notice included.  This is almost certainly fraudulent, as ever; these images cannot be considered creative works of art!  Only in the UK could this even possibly be in copyright, because of the foolish wording of the law in this country.

Still, the failings of this service are historic and traditional; the advantages of it are all new, and I think we may expect radical improvements in service.  Everyone will expect better quality, and we may hope to get it.

UPDATE: I discovered by chance that HSBC customers can do their own international transfers from their online system, at a price of 9 GBP; far cheaper than Lloyds TSB at 15 GBP, etc.  So that’s the way to do it, if you have such an account.

7 Responses to “Vatican ms orders received”


  1. judith weingarten

    Since Britain is in the EU (however grudgingly), banks are not allowed to charge you more for an international (EU) transfer than they charge for a UK transfer if you make an electronic transfer with IBAN and Bic numbers. Follow this up: these charges are ridiculous.

  2. Roger Pearse

    I believe this is the EU regulation, but plainly it is ignored. I have no idea how to query this.

    No-one would use an IBAN and BIC number to make a local transfer in the UK; indeed few would know what these are. You’d use the account number and sort code.

  3. Roger Pearse

    I’ve tried an email to the Financial Services Authority. Worth a try.

  4. Maureen

    I always feel so horrible when you post about this sort of thing. When I was working in my university’s rare books and archives section, as a work-study job, I was always very neurotic about making the most perfect and readable photocopies possible, considering the material and the tweaks possible with the copier. It’s the natural thing to do. Anything else just seems grating.

    Clearly, they are not hiring people who are perfectionist enough.

    OTOH, I have to admit that anyone perfectionist would probably suffer a great deal in the Vatican Library. You’d know you’d never get the cataloguing completely done and all correct in your lifetime, and so a perfectionist would have a terrible time sleeping at night. I mean, sure, it’s not as bad as working for the Holocaust Museum and having to watch your coworkers for signs of suicidal depression, or at some KGB archive. So there are worse library jobs, but….

  5. Roger Pearse

    I think you are a minority in this. Most libraries charge heavy prices for very poor quality materials. But then again there are libraries like the Birmingham University Special Collections…

  6. Dioscorus Boles

    Roger, do you have any of Al Makin’s (Elmacin)book published anywhere in your websites?

    Thanks.

  7. Roger Pearse

    No I don’t. I wish I did.

    The work is in two halves, split in the 9th year of Heraclius (611?). The first part exists only in manuscript — no printed text has ever been made. The second half was printed with a Latin translation by Pococke in the 17th century. This is a pre-critical text, of course! Also his manuscript was incomplete, missing the last 100 years. Recently a book containing the remainder (with French translation) was published.

    I do have a couple of manuscripts of the work, and I was hoping to get at least a table of contents online. But this came to nothing. I must do something about it.



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