Stickelberger Reformation collection

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The Stickelberger collection is comprised of Reformation books collected between 1920 and 1960 by Dr. Emanuel Stickelberger (*March 13 1884 – †January 16 1962). In the study of the Reformation, this collection is regarded as perhaps “the most extensive and interesting private collection of the 20th century.”[1]Stickelberger collected Reformation books for both study and use. He felt that the great historian of the Reformation should immerse him- or herself in the time period through the study of its printed materials.

Collection scope, contents and condition

The original Stickelberger collection consisted of 850 copies, which can be found in the sales catalogue of the Erasmushaus in Basel. This collection contains both titles of the great Reformation personalities like Martin Luther, John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli, and also works by Desiderius Erasmus, Iacobi Sadoleti, Oekolampadius and Wilhelm I, Landgraf von Hessen.

Generally, the books have been rebound—with few original bindings—and show signs of use through annotation of early readers. Stickelberger rebound the majority of copies he owned in the same type of binding—typically with a handwritten title on the spine. He not only rebound his copies, he also took sammelbands apart. As a result, almost every single pamphlet in this collection has its own binding, but one can still find leather tabs—used for quick reference of specific portions of text—on pamphlets and other printings.

One of the highlights of the collection is the large number of tracts by Martin Luther. Stickelberger collected about 180 Luther copies. Most of these copies are small pamphlets of only a few quires printed in the German vernacular. Of many of the titles in this collection, there are two (or sometimes more) copies of different editions by Luther.

Calvin’s works are also rather well-represented, with about 25 publications in various languages. Most of the printings are published in Latin and French, but there are also pamphlets in German and one book in Italian. Compared with the rest of the Stickelberger collection, the Calvin copies seem to have fewer annotations and appear to have more often their original or a contemporary binding.

The collection also contains about 20 copies of Erasmus’ works in Latin as well as in the German vernacular. Most of the copies are in quarto, rebound and annotated in the vernacular language. In one of the Erasmus’ copies (218- 189q), a handwritten note of Emanuel Stickelberger himself can be found on the pastedown at the end of the copy.

Although the Folger Shakespeare Library bought the collection en bloc at the auction in Basel, the library did sell the duplicates of materials they already had. (See here for a list of the sold books – sorted by catalogue number).

Finding items in the Stickelberger collection

Each call number for the books in the Stickelberger collection starts with 218- followed by the number of the text in the sales catalogue. For example: Martin Luther's Vom ehelichen Leben—catalogue number 452—has the call number 218- 452q. The q or f at the end of the call number indicates the size of the copy, either quarto or folio.

  1. Haus der Bücher, Katalog der Sammlung Emanuel Stickelberger für die Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC. Antiquariat im erasmushaus, Basel, 1977, p. 3, 5.