Are Scribes Expected to Donate?

A perspective on the often discussed topic.

Every year the topic of scribes donating their work comes up at least once if not several times. Often these discussions take place on one or another e-mail lists with active participants and even more inactive (lurking,) participants. The answers vary widely and the viewpoints vary just as widely. Sometimes the differences in perspective happen simply because every Kingdom does things differently. Sometimes the differences are slight compared what you are used to, sometimes the differences are great compared to what you are used to. Of course no Kingdom in the SCA holds the patent on "doing it the right way," merely doing it the way they do it.

However, the question is:

"Are scribes expected to donate?"

"Specifically are scribes expected to donate their time, energy and resources to the crown for the purpose of the crown giving a written document to the recipient of an award or entry into an order?"

Unequivocally the answer I give is, "Yes, Scribes are expected to donate."

I love doing court scrolls. I like the effort and skill it takes to create a court scroll. I love participating in a process the only purpose of which is to reward someone. I love seeing the person receive the artwork that I did on behalf of the Crown for them.

Don't get me wrong, I am in no way attempting to detract from the donations others give. Donations can come in the form of time, money, skill and/or resources. Other's in the SCA most certainly donate. Marshals donate time and expertise to keep participants and observers safe. Heralds donate time, expertise and resources (books, crayons, markers, paper, printers,) to help people who want to register a name or device. The list of who donates in the SCA goes on and on seemingly without end. But who is expected to donate regularly and often? That list is somewhat shorter.

How do scribes fit in? We aren't officers simply because we are scribes. We are after all artists whose work is done with ink, paper and other visual media. We are artists who are recreating (or approximating recreating,) the work of those who wrote histories, recipes, religious documents, songs, commentary, philosophy and anything else that stored knowledge in the written medium. This is what we scribes do.

So how are scribes expected to donate? We are expected in some form or another to produce artistic work for the purpose of giving it to the Crown of the Kingdom we live in so that the Crown can give it to a well deserving member of the Kingdom who has been given and Award or entered into an Order. This expectation that scribes are expected to donate is so pervasive that non-scribes often ask scribes some version of, "If you're not scribing a court scroll what is there to do for scribes?"

The answer to that is simple. What did scribes do in period? Anything and everything that had to do with writing.

I know of no other group of people in the SCA that are so pervasively expected to donate their time, skill, expertise and resources. Many people can't visualize a scribe doing any artwork except for the purpose of doing court scrolls. Marshals, officers, heralds, and many other people donate to and for the SCA certainly, but I don't know of anyone who expects that they do their activity solely to and/or for the Crown and in no other capacity.

There are many guestimations out there for the average time it takes to do a full document for the Crown to hand out in Court. The amount of that time of course changes from Kingdom to Kingdom depending on how they do those kinds of documents. In my Kingdom everything is an original work of art from the beginning to the end. The least amount of time I have heard it taking is four hours for a full on court scroll. Promissory scrolls can take up to an hour to do. The average time seems to be around 12-20 hours.

If we do the math on that and use only minimum wage (2011 - $7.25) payment for hours of work the cost of that time span would be between $87 and $145. Calligraphers don't work for minimum wage as professionals. In my area the average hourly cost for a calligrapher is around $30/hr for work from scratch that isn't piecework envelopes and the like. The cost would then go up considerably to between $360 to $600 for that original piece of artwork. It is not unusual to hear of a court document taking 40-60 hours or work and for truly exquisite scrolls to take between 100 and 200 hours of work to finish.

That of course doesn't include the materials used up. Nor does it take into account any use of metals (gold,silver and the ilk,) or other uncommon materials. There are people who have AoA level award that has gold gilding on it. One that I know of was appraised to a value of around $900 when the insurance agent wanted to know how much to insure it for. It wasn't what we in the SCA would call spectacular work. In fact it was what some would consider average to just above average.

And this is what scribes are expected to donate for court documents. And I for one happily do so and encourage others to do so as well.

Are scribes expected to donate? Absolutely.

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