I’ve just got home from a short trip to Barcelona (where I gave a talk on gamification at the very enjoyable Gamification World Congress 2014), but which – you guessed it – also involved my diving head-first into the city’s notarial archives.
Long-standing (or do I mean “long-suffering”?) Cipher Mysteries readers may recall that I took the opportunity a few years back to visit the AHPB (Arxiu Històric de Protocols de Barcelona) to hunt for notarial documents cited 50+ years ago by optometrist and local amateur historian José Maria Simón de Guilleuma. He claimed that these showed the presence of telescopes in various inventories and auctions predating the 1609 Dutch invention of the telescope (which would be consistent with Sirtori’s claim that Barcelonan glasses-maker Juan Roget was the real inventor of the telescope), and even gave the subject, the notary and the date for each one. So it should surely be a simple matter to retrieve them and have a look for myself, right?
Well… as Sergio Toresella is fond of saying about archives, “I’ve been in a hole many times, but I’ve never caught a spider”. That is, it’s normally better to go there with an open mind (and be pleased with what you do find) than with a short list (and be disappointed). Unfortunately, there were only four things on my list:-
- Notary: Francisco de Pedralbes. Pedro de Cardona, 10 April 1593.
- Notary: Francisco de Pedralbes. Maria de Cardona y de Eril, 13 December 1596.
- Notary: Geronimo Gali. Jaime Galvany, auction held on 5 September 1608.
- Notary: Miguel Axada. Honorato Graner, 6th August 1613
All too short a list. 🙁
Anyway, to help researchers find things in Barcelona’s notarial archives, there are two printed catalogs, both by Lluïsa Cases i Loscos: (1) “Inventarii de l’AHPB” (in several volumes, covering all the AHPB’s holdings), and (2) “Catàleg dels protocols notarials de Barcelona” (covering notarial archives elsewhere in Barcelona).
Because I had already gone to the AHPB (with no success), this time I tackled the other archives. From online searches, I knew that there were at least some notarial documents by Miquel Axada in the Arxiu Històric de la Ciutat de Barcelona (AHCB), so that was my first stop. (But remember to take your passport to sign in with the security guard on the ground floor).
Once on the AHCB’s third floor, I quickly went through their copy of the “Catàleg dels protocols notarials de Barcelona” to find out where I should be looking (note that the most useful bit of the book is the index on the inside back cover, because that tells you where each individual archive’s listing begins inside the book). This directed me to:-
- PEDRALBES, FRANCESC: AHCB, Arxiu Notarial, XII.3 and XII.19
- GALI, JERONI: AHCB, Arxiu Notarial, XIII.9
- AXADA, MIQUEL: AHCB, Arxiu Notarial, XIII.9; and AHBC, Manuals Notarial, 116-8°
It’s a little confusing, but “AHCB” is short for the Arxiu Històric de la Ciutat de Barcelona (not far from Le Boqueria on Las Ramblas), while “AHBC” is short for the Arxiu Històric de la Biblioteca de Catalunya (close to the Gothic cathedral at the top of town). Regardless, I was already at the AHCB, so ordered up XII.3, XII.19, and XIII.9 straight away: and because the AHCB’s archives are so much smaller than the AHPB’s, these arrived in (a very creditable) ten minutes.
What landed in front of me were six-inch or even eight-inch-thick wodges of papers: even though some small sections had their original bindings, and other small subsections had had numbers added to them, there was very little obvious order to them, with notarial material from multiple centuries jumbled together. Moreover, quite a few sections had damage to the top of the pages (frustrating, because that is where the date is very often written) or general fading / water damage to the entire page.
Not a very promising start, it has to be said. 🙁
Anyway, after about an hour of wading through these, I was able to make sense of the structure of the documents: the various date styles, the various embellished notary signatures, the stock phrases, the common abbreviations, etc. And after a couple of hours, I began to read the handwriting a bit faster, and I even found myself able to guess dates based solely on handwriting style. (In fact, there was one document in Notarial XII.3 [I think] that had truly extraordinary handwriting, an intensely modern-looking humanist-Arabic hybrid – in retrospect, I wish I’d asked for a copy of that. Something for next time!)
Alas: Notarial XII.3 had only a single sheet by Francesco Pedralbes (from 1598, and entirely unconnected with Pedro or Maria de Cardona), while Notarial XII.19 also had a single entry “Ego Anthonius Navarro agricola sabitator” and a splendid ornate signum design for Francesco Pedralbes.
Notarial XIII.9 did have a sequential group of papers all signed by Hieronymi Gali, including one that – unusually for these particular archives – was apparently of an auction, with various prices written in. For the sake of completeness, I’ve asked for a copy to be scanned (I should receive it later this week), but unfortunately for my search (a) the date was wrong, (b) the subjects were wrong, and (c) the key telescope-related phrase was absent. The few papers by Miquel Axada in Notarial XIII.9 were similarly not the ones I was looking for.
So, the AHCB was basically a bust for anyone trying to test Simón de Guilleuma’s claims. Undaunted, I continued to the AHBC (for which I had already got a library card on my first trip to Barcelona). With the very kind help of a librarian, I ordered Manuals Notarial, 116-8°, went and sat in the Reserved Document side-room (it’s on your left as you enter the main door into the library)… and waited for what, after the AHBC’s swift response, seemed like a small eternity.
So I wandered around the room, looking at the silent piano (so that musicologists could play through the musical scores in the archives); the listings of library holdings in various countries; a book listing anonymous or pseudonymous books in British libraries; Dorothea Waley Singer‘s books listing alchemical books in UK libraries; and so forth. In other words, all the usual suspects.
And then Manuals Notarial 116 arrived: unlike the previous unstructured gloop of papers I had been dealing with, this was a structured, sequential log of papers, written and bound in their proper order, and covering June to December 1613. So I turned to the date I was looking for and found… nothing. Zilch.
To be precise, the papers from nearby dates were all signed by Anthonius Axada (not Miquel Axada): the nearest to the date began “Ego Bertrandus Desualls cuius bad(?) honoratus gratis…” I’m pretty sure that here (as elsewhere), “honoratus” meant “honourable / well-respected / top-tier” while “gratis” meant “free man of the city”: this makes me wonder whether “Honorato Graner” as noted by Simón de Guilleuma could well have been a misreading of a common phrase. So there was nothing here either. It was a bit odd that there was apparently nothing notarized by Miquel Axada here, but perhaps the references to Anthonius Axada had been cross-referenced to the wrong Axada notary?
Anyway, I was just about to give up when I noticed that there was a small wodge of papers folded into the back cover. I gingerly took them out and examined them: they were all signed by Miquel Axada! I patiently went through these one by one and at last found… nothing at all either.
So, just as Sergio Toresella had warned, there was not a spider to be found in either of those two archival holes: which is annoying and suspicious in equal measures. On the plus side, all three notaries were active at (or extremely close to) the dates Simón de Guilleuma gave, and Jeroni Gali did (unusually) handle auctions. On the negative side, though, absence of evidence in three separate archives that was allegedly not absent would seem to be a bit of a hard thing to explain away comfortably.
Did Simón de Guilleuma genuinely find these documents (and perhaps have them moved together somewhere else)? Or were they never there at all? Right now, I don’t know: all I can say is that I came, I searched, but found no spiders. Oh well!