The Jubilee Exhibition of the Hessian Historical Society at Marburg in the summer of 1890 included not only books printed in Hesse , but also the most valuable bindings, from a historical, technical or artistic point of view, to be found in the more important public libraries of the country. A welcome opportunity was dills offered to the present writer to examine the libraries in Marburg, Cassel, Fulda and Giessen for such bindings.
The great object of this branch of the exhibition : that of furnishing a reliable basis for a future “History of Bookbinding in Hesse”, was satisfactorily attained ; and with a view to fixing the results and further pursuing the investigations, more than half the volumes exhibited were photographed by me and a still greater number accurately described. It soon turned out, however, in the course of the work that the greater part of the bindings exhibited were not of Hessian origin, and that it would therefore be desirable to make these treasures, so important for industrial art, accessible to a larger circle of amateurs. It may not be out of place to give here a brief sketch of the history of the libraries in question, compiled from much scattered material.
THE STATE LIBRARY (LANDESBIBLIOTHEK) AT FULDA.
Fulda is the cradle of civilisation in Hesse. Soon after its foundation by men like Rabanus Maurus, Walafried Strabo and others, there arose here a far-famed monastery school, which sent forth, century after century, a long series of priests, scholars and statesmen. A flourishing scriptorium, which cultivated the decoration of books with illuminated letters and miniatures and artistic bookbinding, created and maintained a copious library, long renowned as the most important in Germany, and assiduously used by popes, bishops and scholars. After the invention of printing, there arose by the side of this collection of manuscripts another of printed books, which also enjoyed the reputation of great value.
Of tile first division, unfortunately, as good as nothing is now to be found in Fulda, but at least one catalogue of it, dating from the 16th century, was discovered and published by Kindlinger in the beginning of this century. Over this total disappearance scholars have pondered long without coming to any tangible result, the archives having, till now, thrown no light on the matter. There is evidence that at a very early period the collection of manuscripts suffered severely from that laxity and negligence which were then only too common. It is probable that at the visitation of the abbey by Cardinal Carafa in 1627 the greatest part of the library of manuscripts was carried off to the Vatican Library, where, as a matter of fact, codices from Fulda have from time to time been found. Further losses occurred during the rebuilding of the abbey at the beginning of the last century. It was not till 1770 that the erection of a new library was begun: it was completed in 1776.
The ground floor was intented For the extensive archives while the library was housed on the upper floors, and particularly in a large hall, round which ran an estrade fitted with tastefully carved book-cases, desks and niches, the whole giving evidence of the skill with the architects of those days knew how to com bine comfort with noble elegance. The library of the priests seminary possesses a similar arrangement.
The present library arose out of the relics of the former one, and received a most valuable addition in 1803 in the por- tion of the library of the Monastery of Weingarten (in Swabia) which fell to the share of the Prince-Bishop Wilhelm von Oranien.
Of bookbindings it contains, in addition to those shown on Plates VI, VII, X B &c., the remarkable Bonifatius Bible, an antiphonary and a small prayer book bound in silver filigree. These were not exhibited and are to be dealt with in a supple- ment. Numerous incunables are of interest for the history of mediaeval blind tooling with small stamps. The 16th century is fairly represented by some striking blind toolings from Wein- garten, the 17th century by Low German and South German gold toolings with naturalistic flowers, coats of arms &c. Fine bindings in the French or German variations of the Grolier or Le Gascon type are entirely wanting. One of the better spe- cimens, probably from Cologne, is given on Plate XXXVI.
Next to Fulda, the Hessian monasteries which displayed the greatest literary or artistic activity were those ofTritzlar, Hers- feld and Helmarshausen, but those of Kaufungen, Wetter, Haina, Hasungen, Schliichtern, Amoneburg and Marburg also possessed libraries of greater or less extent, and the rest’ must at least have possessed a few noteworthy liturgical books.
MARBURG UNIVERSITY LIBRARY.
The selection seems, unhappily, to have been very one- sided, for of specially liturgical works, which we should naturally expect to find richly bound, not one escaped destruction. The parchment codices seem, like the church vessels, to have been applied to a more ‘rational’ purpose: in this case to bin- ding books and wrapping vouchers, round which many a piece of parchment, illuminated with splendid initials, is still to be found. As might be supposed from its origin, the library of the University of Marburg is unusually rich in incunables and in works of the 16th and 17th centuries purchased for the require- ments of the University and bound in the styles of those periods. Want of means happily prevented the introduction of that uni- form rebinding which had such ruinous effects in large, wealthy institutions. University binders are mentioned at an early date in the annals of the University, and it is not difficult to find out which works were bound by these officials.