The Battle of the Books. (Not found in Game of Thrones.)

It is pretty rare when a set of books comes in – with all the volumes present… but it happened today. And it’s always a happy day for me when Charles Dickens makes an appearance in the book shop.

Much to his dismay, the works of Charles Dickens were widely pirated, and he sold thousands of books – receiving nothing. His solicitors would send ‘Cease and Desist’ orders to U.S. publishers, who generally had ordered a copy of the latest Dickens novel and then set the type, reprinted the story, and took the profits. Copyrights were difficult to enforce in Dickens’s time, even though he made arrangements with publishers to print his ‘authorized’ version.

After his death, his works were widely reprinted in the U.S. by publishers who knew that Mr Dickens would no longer be sending legal representatives to protect his stories. The books that arrived today might be of that sort. Typically, early unauthorized editions contained no copyright information and – usually – no actual printing date. I was trying to pin down the date on this set when I ran across an ad in an Oakland Tribune issue from 1937.

The idea was to collect the twenty volume set by purchasing a couple of books at a time. (I remember doing that at the grocery store to acquire a set of Funk & Wagnall encyclopedias.) But – what a set of hoops the buyers were required to jump through!

According to the article from 1937, to obtain a set required a registration form, a printed mailing label, and a dozen ‘Dickens Certificates’ (obtained from the pages of the newspaper). Of course, the thirty-four-cent per volume price tag sounds pretty nice these days. Even the adjusted-for-inflation amount of $6.45 seems a bargain for a nicely printed hardback!

Such bargains could be offered when publishers were not required to pay royalty figures to authors or copyright holders. In the case of the Cleartype Edition library, the marketing expense was covered by the participating newspapers across the country – which also served as a distribution point for copies that were to be picked up in person rather than by mail.

Dickens wasn’t the only one ever to be defensive of his copyrighted works, and although he was vocal in his opposition to pirated copies, at least no lives were lost: the Irish in the mid-6th Century were a wee bit more emotional about their printed works. According to Wikipedia, the Battle of Cúl Dreimhne (Gaelic for the Battle of the Book) caused the deaths of some three-thousand Irish in a dispute over a copied religious book.

In the year 560 (or thereabouts), Irish abbot and missionary Saint Columba and Saint Finnian of Movilla Abbey disagreed over a religious book. Columba copied a volume owned by Saint Finnian, intending to keep the copy, but they disagreed as to whether it belonged to Saint Columba because he copied it or whether it belonged to Saint Finnian because he owned the original.

King Diarmait mac Cerbaill ruled on the disagreement, concluding that: “To every cow belongs her calf, therefore to every book belongs its copy.”

The judgment didn’t please Columba one bit. As a result, he staged a rebellion of the O’Néill clan against the King, which succeeded, but was said to have resulted in some 3,000 casualties.

Perhaps rightly shamed over the fuss, Columba took his copied book and left for Scotland, where he founded the Iona Abbey and devoted the rest of his life spreading the Christian gospel.

No lives need be lost in acquiring copies of books in our shop. And, although Charles Dickens might not have been happy about it, we are happy to offer the full set of the Cleartype Edition of his works, circa 1937, so patiently acquired by a newspaper reader and Dickens fan, in the time between the World Wars.

Fresh and tasty…

It must have been a case of the ‘hungries’ (as my Dad used to say) that made today’s batch of Irish Stew wind up as a photo. If it wasn’t so early in the morning, more than likely I’d be sampling a bowlful instead of writing about it.

Fresh russet potatoes, carrots, celery, roast beef, onions and spices – ready to ladle into a bowl and serve up with slices of bread.

Breakfast of champions. The Irish ones, anyway.

Sure’n I recall a fain eve full o’ St. Paddy.

The night was party-perfect and I was helping host one of the bigger celebrations in Tulsa. It was Eire-crazy, enough so that we had to post an Irishman at the front door. There was a line outside.

St. Pat's hats
For the US Irish: a BIG day.

A man and his daughter worked their way to the front, and Robbie says in his fain Dublin brogue, “Aye, the fire marshall says we’re full-up.”

“I see you are,” the man answered. “I’m the fire marshall.”

I was summoned immediately, the words “fire marshall” shouted into my ear over the blaring Irish music. Yikes, I thought, in an adopted Irish brogue. I ran to the front.

Well, ‘ran’ is an overstatement. I leaned and elbowed my way through the human-carwash to where Robbie stood. The man in front of the podium introduced himself and said he was happy to see that we were limiting entry.

The way he said it made it clear that – in his scanning of our happy crowd – we were clearly over capacity. I hadn’t counted but I figured it was a cinch we were. As fire marshall, the man had the option of marching everyone outside and then counting the re-entry until our maximum seating capacity was reached.

He didn’t.

He leaned in and said to me, “My daughter has never been to a St. Patrick’s Day celebration before. I thought we’d try your corned beef.”

I was nodding my head and smiling like a fool.

“If you can find us a table,” he continued, “we can eat a quick meal and you can get back to your little party.”

I told him I’d be back to escort him there presently.

Seating had been a premium since before noon, and those standing about were eyeing potential tables like Irish-vultures. Amazingly, I found a group just starting to push back their chairs.

I grabbed a waitress and had her stake a claim while motioning for another to quickly come clear away the dishes. Another run through the robo-wash and I directed the fire marshall and guest to their sparkling spot.

St. Paddy’s Day continued uninterrupted: the Irish music blared, the bagpipers paraded, the green beer poured, and corned beef was consumed.

I covered the cost of the meal. It was the least I could do. He realized we were trying to do the best we could in a crazy situation. After a smile and wink, the fire marshall went out the door.

I hope his daughter enjoyed her first St. Paddy’s. It was quite the party for us.

A decade later, I think about donning the kilt and finding a celebration… but the bad knee won’t hold up standing too long, and the workday Friday begins at the usual hour.

The restaurant business is a tough way to make a living, about as tough as profiting from book sales.

But there are days I miss the raucous, happy bleeting of bagpipers making their way through my establishment.