steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Jaunt the Second - and a Queueing Query

I had a very pleasant Jaunt#2 in London, first with fjm and chilperic (with the former of whom I went to see Howl's Moving Castle), and then with my brother and his partner. In between, I went to see the new Sherlock Holmes movie, and enjoyed its high-paced rompiness. Both Howl and Sherlock featured Stephen Fry (but what doesn't?), first as the disembodied voice of the Castle itself, and then as an all-too-embodied Mycroft Holmes, exhibiting an uncanonical penchant for walking round the house as nature intended-but-then-thought-better-of.

One thing has been bothering me, though. I know that all the costumes in the Holmes film were meticulously researched for period; and I know that a lot of other stuff wasn't. (Lipstick in a tube in 1891? Ha!) Well, that's okay, it's a romp. But one of the features that struck me as most absurd at the time was the sight of Professor Moriarty of Kings College Cambridge (to judge by the establishing shot), on a European book tour, signing copies of his latest book on asteroids in front of an orderly queue of physicists.

Then it struck me that I had no idea when the habit of book signings actually took off. Okay, I don't see it happening with technical works on physics even today, but am I really certain that Dickens, for example, never did such a thing? He undertook reading tours: did people ask him to sign their books? (When did autograph collecting become a hobby, for that matter? I'm guessing it's at least that old, although the oldest date the OED gives for that usage is 1927.) If enough people asked, wouldn't it have occurred to him to set up a table and arrange them in a queue? It seems inevitable, yet it feels anachronistic. On the other hand, I was surprised a couple of years ago to discover how long the word "celebrity" had been applied to people: the OED's earliest date is 1849. Any insights into this would be very welcome.

Meanwhile, I'm off on Jaunt#3 today, to Borth, the village squeezed thin as string between the Cors Fochno and the sea...
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