The Origin of the Crown Prints

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THE ORIGIN OF THE CROWN PRINTS

by Master Thin Robert of Lawrence

This article was published in the June 1998, The Kingdom of Caid 20th Anniversary Issue. It has been altered slightly to comply with the policies of this web site and to fill in the gaps caused by that.

When the four baronies of Calafia, Angels, Isles and Dreiburgen became the Principality of Caid in April of 1974, the only newsletter it had was that part of the Kingdom of the West's Page which covered Southern California events. Caid would not have an official newsletter of its own for about three more years.

The Crown Prints was the brainchild and creation of John ap Gryphon and Bjo of Gryphon (I’ll use the names they used at the time), early SCAers (they went to the SCA's third ever event) and well known science fiction fan personalities who were rejoining the SCA in mid-1974. John and Bjo ran some of the best-loved science fiction conventions of the time. Bjo was also the "housewife" who was responsible for the letter writing campaign which saved Star Trek from cancellation after its second season, enabling it to accumulate barely enough episodes live on in syndication and be rediscovered there.

John and Bjo lived in a giant house (Called Mathem House) in the Wilshire District of Los Angeles. In their basement, they had a Gestetner mimeograph machine and "an old but workable spirit duplicator" which they used to put out various publications. One of these was a two page (one sheet of paper) missive, dated 6/74 called The Great Green and Golden Gryphon Gazette, which I like to think of as Crown Prints #0. In it, they reintroduced themselves to the Society and gave out some basic SCA information.

It took John and Bjo very little time to get into Caid up to their elbows. On August 31, 1974, they mailed out The Caid Newsletter #1 for free to everybody in the new principality whose address they knew and whoever else asked for it. This first issue was impressive for what it was. Printed on an offset press, it had twelve 8 1/2" by 11" pages, with six sheets stapled in the upper left hand corner. It was chock full of information and features; editorials, recipes, guest writers, more letters than I think the Crown Prints ever had since, an advice column, news, book reports, etc. Word processing was years away and the writing looks like it was typed and reduced (the letters are very small). The graphics were cut/paste, mostly medieval woodcuts. It actually had about 20 pages worth of material. Angels, Calafia, and Isles sent Bjo event information; Dreiburgen and the short-lived areas of Easterngate, Novamarc, etc. did not.

I find no "Thank You" section and cannot say who put it together other than John and Bjo, though I am pretty sure that their then-current friends like Joscelyn Fitzharry of Gillyflower helped (my copy is Joscelyn's old copy).

The first page of the first issue had a call for proposed newsletter’s name. Possibilities mentioned included "Berfrey", "Rook", "Roke", "Rokh", "Castellaine" and "The Caid Royalist". Yick. Bjo was careless about identifying her issues but internal evidence says that a two-sheeter with "War Declared" at the top was in fact the second issue of the Caid Newsletter. By then, almost forty names had been suggested and listed, including some stinkers like "Sgian Dhu", "CAID-ance" (back then, people often wrote Caid as if it were an acronym), and "Dhe Sura" (sura, whatever will be will be). Third on the list was "The Crown Prints" which is what it was called in the next issue and ever since. Kirstin Hoschar of Dreiburgen suggested the name. She apparently got nothing for her unique contribution.

With the new name came the planned end of the freebies. Issues were 25 cents each or $2.00 for a full year (8 issues). Issue #3 is also the first to contain the masthead disclaimer describing it as the "Unofficial" Caid newsletter. I suspect that someone at the SCA corporate level complained. For years, the word "unofficial", usually coupled with some kind of adjective like "outrageously", "frankly" etc. was put on the cover almost as if it were part of the title. The November-December 1975 issue called itself The Fantastically Illegal Communique of the Caid Principality". The Crown Prints remained John and Bjo's personal property until 1977. There was even talk about keeping it private and publishing some one sheet to stand as Caid's official newsletter while the unofficial paper published everything people cared about.

While the first issue was impressive, the next several after that were quite routine, the kind of work you would expect from something put together in someone's basement in the days before home computers. Then, in a stroke of extraordinary luck, a professional printer, Randolph the Devious, joined and volunteered his time and the use of his family's professional print shop for free. This, plus the establishment of Dragon Keep, and the institution of Crown Prints work parties rung in the newsletter's first golden age.

Dragon Keep was an all-SCA house next door to John and Bjo whose main inhabitants were Martin the Temperate, Charles of Dublin, Robear du Bois, and myself. The Crown Prints work parties were big social/work events where the two houses became host to dozens of writers, proof readers, calligraphers, cut and paste artists, etc. who made the whole thing ready for Randolph in an evening of fun and furious activity. Having free professional printing, a live-in staff of ten or so and dozens of eager drop-in workers, the Crown Prints was on a roll. The result was the best newsletter in the known world, no contest.

My favorite is the May 1977 issue. Its cover is a gorgeous (so gorgeous that I will probably frame it and put it on my wall) four color depiction of a lady picking flowers in forest near a medieval city. There are ten photographs inside. There is a feature story about virtually every event of the previous month. This issue was one of the first official Caid newsletters, though joining the SCA still did not get you a subscription. The editors were Fiona Gregorovna (later Queen and Duchess under other names) and Bjo. Around this time, it was common for The Crown Prints to feature pieces by science fiction luminaries.

The early Crown Prints was the glue that held the early principality together. It was its town crier, its newspaper, its home page. The Mathem House-Dragon Keep complex was the Rome to which all roads in Caid seemed to lead in 1976-1979. However, there was a downside. Joining the SCA (for $4.00 and later $7.00) didn't get most Caidans anything they wanted. Having a newsletter which was better than the official one and cheaper to boot gave many little reason to join the SCA. So, the Principality was slow to grow officially large enough (200 sustaining members) to be a kingdom even while it exploded in population unofficially. Of course, we did end up becoming a kingdom in 1978.

Several things happened around the time Caid became a Kingdom. Someone got the bright idea that if they cut out the socializing and fun, people would have more time to work during the Crown Prints work parties. The people stopped coming. Randolph's generous offer ended. Dragon Keep was sold out from under its inhabitants. Bjo stepped down as editor permanently. The Crown Prints became directly accountable to the SCA bureaucracy. Its first era was over.

I think that the early Crown Prints typified the best of the early SCA, where individual initiative was paramount, where everything was volunteered and members were generous with their time and effort for the dream.

(Tagline by the then Chronicler) Master Thin Robert of Lawrence was active 1969-1970 and 1976-1994. He was close friends with John and Bjo for about ten years and knew the other prime movers of the early Crown Prints well. He estimates that he wrote about 100 pieces for this newsletter. He has the most complete collection of early issues known to the Chronicler (including the Kingdom collection).