Polish University Discovers 27 Books Belonging to the Brothers Grimm

The texts formed part of the authors’ extensive personal library.

A researcher examines a book. Photo: AMU

Two scholars at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland just discovered 27 books that once belonged to the Brothers Grimm. The legendary folklorists and linguists amassed a collection of 8,000 books throughout their joint career as Germany’s leading scholars during the early 1800s.

Much of that library was scattered from Berlin by postwar donations. A recent article that the university published on the meaningful find noted: “For the Grimm researchers, it’s like discovering a treasure.”

Though the Brothers Grimm worked together in Kassel, Göttingen, and even Savigny for a beat, they spent the longest, most illustrious period of their careers as cultural anthropologists in Berlin. The stint began in 1840 when Frederick William IV, the king of Prussia, invited them to lecture as members of the Royal Academy of Sciences. “The path of the Grimmowski collection to Poznań has several question marks,” that same article explained, after Wilhelm Grimm’s son Hermann left the collection to the University Library in Berlin upon his death.

A photograph of two women, both wearing red, standing back to back and smiling with their arms crossed amongst a beige room full of books

Professor Eliza Pieciul-Karmińska and librarian Renata Wilgosiewicz-Skutecka. Photo: Lukasz Gdak

A large concentration of the Brothers’ personal library still lives in Berlin, where it is displayed in a recreation of their study—but not all of them. In 1898, Berlin’s librarians voluntarily donated some of their holdings to the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Bibliothek in Poznań. In 1919, that library’s collection became part of the newly established University of Poznań (AMU). Then, in 1945, the librarians began sending books out of Berlin to save them from airstrikes.

These are the two channels through which professor Eliza Pieciul-Karmińska and AMU librarian Renata Wilgosiewicz-Skutecka were able to track the books’ arrival in their library, with help from their colleague, romance language professor and researcher Anna Loba.

German librarian Ludwig Denecke, who penned the Encyclopedia Britannica entry on the Brothers Grimm, also compiled the definitive inventory of their impressive library. In 2002, AMU professor Wieslaw Wydra published a catalog on all the pre-printing press booklets (called incunables) at the University Library, and noted that six volumes of them had belonged to the Brothers.

Referencing those lists, the trio combed through their facilities over the next six months to see if any missing titles were amongst their expansive shelves.

A photograph of an old book with red headlines and black text on a brown background

A first edition print of the Baroque novel Simplicissimus from Monpelgard circa 1669. Photo: AMU

The 27 new items checked off Denecke’s list fall into three categories—incunables, old prints, and comparatively modern books from the 19th century. Altogether, the varied artifacts range in date of origin from the 1400s through the second half of the 1800s.

There is a bible from Basel circa 1491 and a book about Charlemagne from Lyon dated from about a century later. The more modern pieces are German history books on songs and geographies, dating from 1861.

The Brothers were known to annotate their materials, providing a fascinating window into their working methods. Some volumes still have insignias the Berlin library stamped them with, before loaning them out in 1945.

Emboldened by these discoveries, the researchers are pressing forth. Pieciul-Karminska will join professor Holger Ehrhardt of University Kassel on an international mission to find more of the Brothers’ lost books.

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