Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2014 Issue

Long Missing Document Returned to German Owner by American Bookseller

2248414e-e10f-483d-8ea4-8b3488f99c7d

A diploma fit for a prince.

Stolen books and documents are too often the subject of news stories, such as the truly horrific thefts recently revealed at a major church library in Italy. Poor if not corrupt political appointments, a thieving library director, a priest caretaker who looked the other way, forgers, distributors, and possibly corrupt sellers wind their way into a terrible tale of thousands of stolen antiquarian books. So, it is nice to hear the story of a long missing document discovered by a curious American bookseller that was returned to its rightful owner in Germany.

 

This story begins when a man walked into Motte & Bailey Booksellers of Ann Arbor, Michigan, with an impressive-looking document in his hands. It was an Imperial German manuscript, written on vellum, dating to the era of Kaiser Wilhelm II. “Kaiser Bill” had even signed the document. Complete with a painted family coat of arms, it raised Graf (Count) Otto von Stolberg-Wernigerode from his position as a count to that of a prince. Stolberg-Wernigerode was born in 1837 to an ancient noble family. He served in the Prussian Army, was elected to the Reichstag, served as Governor of Hanover, and in 1878, was appointed Vice-Chancellor under Bismarck. He was Germany's first vice-chancellor. Stolberg-Wernigerode resigned that office in 1881 as his views began to drift from those of his mentor, Bismarck. He was a traditionalist, a moderate conservative who stood for the current order, but was also concerned for the well-being of those not born to privilege as was he. Perhaps it was his loyalty to the Kaiser that led to the latter re-instating his title as Prince in 1890, a title not granted to anyone in his family in almost two centuries.

 

The document, known as a “Fürstendiplom,” or princely diploma, gives the many titles of the Kaiser, details the background of the Count and who is eligible to inherit the new title of “Prince,” and explains how his new coat of arms should look. The artist was Emil Doepler, who would design the crest for the Weimar Republic which replaced Imperial Germany at the end of the First World War.

 

When he first saw the document, Gene Alloway of Motte & Bailey was impressed, but also concerned about its background. Many German documents were taken from private owners, first through confiscation of Jewish property during the Nazi regime, and then in the aftermath of the war, in the chaos of the first days after the German surrender. American soldiers came back with things they had collected, perhaps found in homes of Nazi officials, abandoned buildings, or purchased on the street from people whose source was unknown. Over the past couple of decades, attempts have increased to return these items to their pre-war rightful owners.

 

Alloway explains, “Right away I could tell this was different. It was beautiful, and signed by the Kaiser, but there was a note on it by a U.S. soldier saying he bought it in Berlin and sent it and the princely seal to his mother in Michigan. I suggested to the owner the manuscript might be war loot, and it was important to find out as much as we could before it was sold.” The possessor of the manuscript had inherited it from his father, but noted that his father had collected many unusual items and he did not know where he had picked up this one. The serial number of the soldier who obtained the manuscript in Germany indicates he served there in the 1950's, rather than right after the war, so most likely he purchased it from a German or a Russian, as the Prince's home was located in what became the Russian zone when Germany was divided. However, there was no connection between the family of the soldier who obtained the document in Germany and that of the Ohio man who brought it into Alloway's shop.

 

Alloway began contacting German museums to determine whether the manuscript might be stolen, and then contacted the museum at Castle Wernigerode, but was not making much progress. “I wasn't sure where else to look, but I was concerned about selling it,” he recalls. Alloway made the document available for viewing in his shop, and the local newspaper came in and ran a story on it. That story reached Philip Fürst von Stolberg-Wernigerode, current holder of the princely title. The current Prince has been actively seeking material lost from the family archive and contacted Alloway by email. The Prince explained that after the Second World War, his home (Hessia) was controlled by the Russians (East Germany). It was looted and robbed repeatedly, so much so that the librarian committed suicide. This diploma was one of the most personal of losses from the collection. The Prince thought the document had been taken by the Americans, who briefly controlled the territory after the War, but the 1950's date makes it more likely to have been taken during the Russian period.

 

The manuscript is now safely back with its legitimate owner, though the princely seal that was with it at the time it was sent to America is missing. Alloway is helping the Prince in his search to find the missing seal. The Ann Arbor bookseller concluded, “The former owner of the Fürstendiplom and I are very happy it is back where it belongs, as of course is the Prince. I think it was very wise and generous of the family here in the States to let it go back. Not everyone would do that.”

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>Aurora Australis.</i> Printed at the sign of 'The Penguins'; East Antarctica, 1908. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>South Polar Times.</i> 1st edition, limited issue. from the library of Michael Barne. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> General Washington's <i>Proceedings of a General Court Martial... of Major General Lee.</i> Philiadelphia, 1778. 100 copies printed for Congress. BOUND WITH: ...Court Martial... of St Clair and ...Schuyler. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>The Voice of the People.</i> Boston, 1754. Rare pamphlet on the Excise Tax. Nathaniel Sparhawk's copy. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Autograph Letter Signed ("S.L. Clemens"), offering extensive hard-earned advice on writing, 5 pp, 1881. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> After Fra Egnazio Danti. <i>L'Ultime Parti not:e nel Indie Occid:ntli" [The last known parts of the Western Indies].</i> Painted Map of California, Western Mexico, and Japan. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Ptolemaeus, Claudius. <i>Geographie opus nouissima...</i> 1513. The most important edition of Ptolemy, containing the Admiral's Map. $250,000 to $350,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> De Arellano, Don Alonso. Manuscript, his <i>"Relación mui singular y circunstanciada... Capitán del Patax San Lucas,"</i> manuscript copy from the Sir Thomas Phillips collection. $50,000 to $80,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Purchas, Samuel. <i>Purchas his Pilgrimes.</i> First edition. With John Simth's engraved map of Virginia. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Lewis, Meriwether. Contemporary manuscript true copy of his final power of attorney, 1809. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>A New Method of Macarony Making, as Practiced at Boston in North America.</i> Mezzotint. London, 1774. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>Scientific Base Ball Pitching: A Treatise on the Pitcher, Pitching, Origin and Philosophy of the Curve.</i> Chicago, 1897. $2,000 to $3,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Franklin H. Brown, <i>State Sovereignty, National Union,</i> Chicago, 1860. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Thomas Paine, <i>The American Crisis,</i> Fishkill, NY, December 1776. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b><br>The Aitken Bible, Philadelphia, 1781. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francisco Loubayssin de Lamarca, probable first edition of the first novel set in the Spanish New World, Paris, 1617. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Juan de la Anunciación, <i>Sermonario en lengua mexicana,</i> first edition, first book of sermons in Nahuatl, Mexico, 1577. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Maturino Gilberti, <i>Thesoro spiritual en lengua de Mechuacá,</i> first edition, Mexico, 1558. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Commission of William O. Stoddard as secretary to the president, signed by Lincoln, Washington, 1861. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> <i>Clay and Frelinghuysen,</i> flag banner, circa 1844. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Daguerreotype of a man believed to be Frederick Granger Williams Smith, son of Joseph Smith, circa late 1850s. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> John C. Wolfe, <i>Portrait of Abraham Lincoln,</i> oil on board in period wooden frame, circa 1860s. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francis W. Winton, manuscript on pow-wows with indigenous Canadians, 1881. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Family letters from two young daguerreotype artists, 1826-79. $10,000 to $15,000.
  • <b>Leland Little: Important Fall Auction. September 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Published Half Plate Ambrotype of a North Carolina Confederate Officer. $2,000 to $4,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Two 19th Century Books Pertaining to Canada's Red River Settlement. $400 to $800
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Two Books With Fore-Edge Paintings of British Architectual Landmarks. $400 to $600
    <b>Leland Little: Important Fall Auction. September 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), "Torte a la Dobosch" from <i>Wild Raspberries</i>. $1,000 to $3,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Keith Haring (American, 1958-1990), <i>Pop Shop II,</i> One Plate screenprint in colors, on wove paper, 1998. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Thomas Rowlandson (British, 1756-1827), Twenty-Two Prints from the <i>Tours of Dr. Syntax</i>. $500 to $1,000

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions