Medieval manuscripts for sale

The Baden state library (Badische Landesbibliothek) in Karlsruhe has a problem.  Some of its manuscripts actually belong to the House of Baden, not the state.  The family is now short of cash — all those redistributive taxes beloved of the political Left, no doubt — and is proposing to sell them off at auction.  An article appeared in the Stuttgarter Zeitung, and posts about this have appeared in the MEDTEXTL, and MEDIAEVISTIK listserves (the latter in German), reposted in PAPY-L (papyri) decrying the “cultural atrocity” and inviting us to join them in condemning the move.

But I have mixed feelings.  The library hasn’t photographed any of these mss, as far as I know.  Indeed there doesn’t seem to be a full list of them, even.  They have just one (!) manuscript online.  I suspect that readers have been prevented from photographing them.  One scholar, when I queried why they weren’t online, suggested that it was good for scholars to have to travel to Karlsruhe to consult them!  Frankly, it would be better if these mss were in hands that would record them and place them online.  Perhaps the House of Baden would be agreeable to a proposal to do so!

I have written to various people suggesting that a few volunteers take digital cameras and record them.  It will be interesting to see whether those involved would rather allow the ‘atrocity’ than allow people to photograph them.

3 Responses to “Medieval manuscripts for sale”


  1. Dr. Klaus Graf

    I have mixed feelings with the math. I didn’t think enough and thought I should combine the numbers. As I was going back my entry I have wrote in 15 minutes (writing English is not very easy for me) was disappeared. I fear you cannot read German because there are clear mistakes in your entry I have also mixed feeling with.

    I am the poster of the English messages. As a strong supporter of Open Access I have often protested against the policy of libraries in German (and worldwide) which regard their cultural heritage as “copyrighted”. For me mss. and its images are “free content” which are the commons heritage of mankind.

    It is not right that they have not photographed their mss. I guess they have hundreds of mss. photographed or microfilmed and there are some printed facsimile editions of very precious items. In the last days I have made the suggestion in a mailing list to put online as many Karlsruhe mss. as possible. There was pro and contra.

    It is not right that they do’nt have a list of their mss. It is right that such a list is’nt online but there a excellent printed catalogs of nearly all mss. Some are already online at http://www.manuscripta-mediaevalia.de (the rest is prepared), some can be used at Google Book Search.

  2. Roger Pearse

    I am glad to hear from you, since I believe that you have been involved in some way with this issue? I found great difficulty in finding any information online. My German is very bad, I am afraid. I will try to write simple English!

    I am glad that you and I both understand the importance of open access to manuscripts. (In 20 years time, no-one will question this, I think).

    I think that we misunderstand each other, on a couple of things. (I should add that I have only seen one post on this subject, in PAPY-L, and it did not give much detail. I would be interested to learn where further posts have been made).

    1. I had not meant to imply that Karlsruhe do not have a list of their manuscripts. (I’m sure that they do, of some sort). But I have seen no list on the internet of *what manuscripts are to be sold*. It is hard to know if we care about the manuscripts, without knowing what they are. I really do not care who owns Books of Hours! But someone mentioned books from Reichenau, and that is most interesting.

    2. I am glad to hear that the library has photographed some of its manuscripts — in the 150 years since photography was invented!
    But what about the manuscripts to be sold? Have any been photographed? Have any NOT been photographed? I would also ask: why are none of them on the web?

    This is why I think that the sale must be a good thing. Any institution that really is so stupid that it tries to hide material away should not be allowed to hold manuscripts. Karlsruhe has done NOTHING for the internet, as far as I can see, apart from one paltry manuscript. (If I am wrong, please tell me — but I don’t think that I am). Why should the Baden taxpayer pay for the library to keep books that the library has never tried to make available?

    Digital photography is cheap, easy, and risk-free. I ask why Karlsruhe are not getting a team of volunteers to photograph the whole library. It could be done, so easily.

    It is strange to me that anyone is opposed to making material available on the internet. What sort of excuses did people make against it? But then, Lupus of Ferrieres tells us that such people were opposed to literacy too.

    Is there a contact email address for the House of Baden? Perhaps we should ask Prince Max von Baden for permission to photograph, before they are sold.

  3. Jaimie

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