The Bookplate Collection of the Gutenberg Museum
The Gutenberg-Museum actually started collecting bookplates (also known as ex-libris) in the mid-20th century when Richard Doetsch-Benziger from Basel (1877-1958), pharmacist, bibliophile and art lover, donated several dozen bookplates to the museum. The Doetsch-Benziger Donation included several extraordinary leaves, such as a woodcut with the coat of arms of the monk Hilprandus Brandenburg (which was produced towards the end of the 15th century and may be considered one of the “incunabula of bookplates”); bookplates of the 18th century for Lavater, Nicolai, and the Bibliotheca Palatina; an etching by Piranesi; and a little etching which had been made by young Goethe for Käthchen Schönkopf from Leipzig with whom he had a close relationship.
In 1963 Dr. Willy Tropp (1884-1972), a chemist and at that time probably the world’s most important bookplate collector, who was also the first chairman of the German Bookplate Association (Deutsche Exlibris-Gesellschaft) after the war, donated about 50,000 bookplates to the Gutenberg-Museum. Among them were many outstanding leaves of Art Nouveau and expressionism which became the centre and one of the most important parts of today’s collection.
A great many artists are represented in this collection and, more than that, very often nearly all of their bookplates are available. There are Hans Thoma, Max Klinger, Hanns Bastanier, Bruno Héroux, Alois Kolb, Heinrich Vogeler, Emil Orlik, Alfred Cossmann, Marcus Behmer, Willi Geiger, Otto Ubbelohde, Alfred Kubin, Franz von Stuck, and Franz von Bayros. Several unique leaves, such as those made by Mucha, Slevogt, Marc, Liebermann, Kokoschka, Corinth, Masereel, and Schmidt-Rottluff, can be considered the highlights of this vast collection.
Some of the owners of these bookplates were crowned heads or belonged to ancient noble families, such as Wilhelm II, the last German Emperor; King Alfonso XIII of Spain; and Queen Mary. Poland’s Cardinal Wyszynski and the Archbishop of Bucharest stand for the clergy whereas Otto von Bismarck, Prime Minister of Prussia and first Chancellor of the German Empire; Clara Zetkin, German politician and fighter for women’s rights; U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt; the French Presidents Poincaré and Tardieu; Mussolini; Hitler and Himmler, Reichsführer of the SS; represent the field of world history and politics.
Various libraries and other institutions, such as banks, insurance companies, publishing houses and book trade, specialized libraries of companies, Freemasonry, college fraternities, all kinds of associations, cloisters and churches, local and national institutions, medical facilities, and many more - from the Royal College of Organists to the Westchester Midwives Association or the Cologne Recreation Home for Officials - , they all have their own bookplates. Several ex-libris of each of these categories are to be found among those of the Gutenberg-Museum.
The Tropp Collection of the Gutenberg-Museum comprises bookplates that were made for a great many famous people: for Charles Lindbergh, who is renowned for his solo non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean; Sven Hedin, great explorer of Asia; Carl Langenscheidt, German publisher; Oswald Spengler, philosopher of history; Ernst Haeckel, the “German Darwin”; Albert Einstein; Max Reinhardt, theatre and film director; for great actors, such as Tilla Durieux, Gustaf Gründgens and Josef Kainz; for the composers Antonin Dvorák and Franz Schreker, who is just now getting rediscovered; and for the well-known pianist Elly Ney. Needless to say, poets and writers are especially well represented: Waldemar Bonsels, Otto Flake, K. H. Waggerl, Horst Wolfram Geissler, Will Vesper, and René Schickele - in their day, they were some of the most popular authors for German speaking readers - , Paul Valéry, Luigi Pirandello, Robert Browning, Peter Rosegger, Ludwig Ganghofer, Thomas Mann, Ernst Jünger, Thomas Carlyle, Charles Dickens, Arthur Schnitzler, Roda Roda, Arnold and Stefan Zweig, Conrad Ferdinand Meyer, Christian Morgenstern, Rainer Maria Rilke, Detlev Liliencron, Gabriele D’Annunzio, Maxim Gorki, Knut Hamsun, and Selma Lagerlöf - all of them still have a great impact on readers from all over the world.
In 1980 the Gutenberg-Museum began to organize and classify its bookplates. Since then, more than 40,000 ex-libris have been added to the collection. Most of them were gifts or had been obtained in exchange for some of the museum’s (duplicate) bookplates. Among them were leaves for former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and former German Federal President Walter Scheel – for both of them bookplates had been produced, as it is often the case, without their knowledge and without having commissioned them. Also bookplates which were made for Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa, and Pope John Paul II now belong to the museum’s collection as well as those for miscellaneous authors (such as Andrej Sacharow, Ödön von Horváth, and Luis Trenker), singer Anneliese Rothenberger, world chess champions Gari Kasparow and Anatoli Karpow, fashion designers Giorgio Armani and Heinz Oestergaard, and Hollywood star Doris Day.
It is only once that Claes Oldenburg has created a (universal) bookplate (1991). One copy of it is in possession of the Gutenberg-Museum. A universal ex-libris does not contain any owner’s name, but the respective name can be added individually. Some curiosities and particularly rare objects also belong to the treasures of the collection. There are, for instance, the “smallest ex-libris in the world”, a bookplate which was printed by using a marrowbone, and another one which was hand embroidered. There are bookplates which were brailled and others that were printed on silk or on paper-thin cork.
Worth mentioning are as well the Erich Aber Collection (c. 6,000, mainly Scandinavian, ex-libris), the Bernhard Kuhlmann Donation (c. 11,000 ex-libris of the 20th century), and the Gerd Meyer Legacy which is with c. 1,500 bookplates depicting chess motifs the world’s most comprehensive ex-libris collection of its kind. Nearly completely available is Ottohans Beier’s work of applied graphics, thanks to his daughters’ collection which is on permanent loan at the museum. Furthermore there is a large collection representing Hermann Huffert’s ex-libris works of art. It was also nearly completed with the assistance and by the generosity of his daughters.
Our special thanks go to all those artists and ex-libris owners who have been kind enough to supply our museum with their recent bookplates. This is one of the reasons why the Gutenberg-Museum has in the meantime about 100,000 bookplates that represent more than 7,000 artists and cover a period of more than 500 years. Even today the ex-libris collection of the Gutenberg-Museum is the most comprehensive public collection of its kind of the Federal Republic of Germany and worldwide it is one of the most important. In recent years these bookplates have been presented to a broad public in more than 15 exhibitions (referring to either an ex-libris artist or a special motif) at the Gutenberg-Museum and other institutions.