The Man  |  The Book Collections of Leander van Ess  |  The Reformation Pamphlets

The Reformation Pamphlets:
aids to identifying pamphlets from van Ess's collections

In a recent publication, I have reconstructed (so far as is possible) the catalogue of van Ess's catalogue of Flugschriften or Reformation pamphlets and have discussed the significance of the collection (the first major collection of these publications of the Reformers and their opponents to come to America—and still the largest to have been acquired at one time):

The Library lf Leander van Ess and the Earliest American Collections of Reformation Pamphlets. BSA Occasional Publications No. 1  (New York: The Bibliographical Society of America, 2007; available through Oak Knoll Press [  /]).

A number of the Reformation pamphlets were removed from the collection at Union, starting apparently in 1883, when the seminary moved from its first campus in Greenwich Village to buildings on Park Avenue. One hundred items transferred at this time, for example, are now at the Beinecke Library of Yale University. A second move to Morningside Heights, which may also have inspired deaccessioning of duplicate and out-of-scope books, occurred in the early twentieth century, and throughout the first half of the twentieth century there were sporadic efforts to make space in the library by exchange or sale.

It is still hoped that further fugitive items from the van Ess collection of pamphlets, most of which are probably in American academic libraries, can be discovered. The identifying marks of van Ess's pamphlets are discussed at length in The Library of Leander van Ess and the Earliest American Collections of Reformation Pamphlets at pages 50-54 (including illustrations), but a short description of the marks and some illustrations is given here in the hope that it may lead to further identifications of pamphlets from van Ess's collection.

The most common mark of van Ess's ownership is a small, square paper label with a manuscript item number affixed to the title page of the pamphlet. (The location of the label varies, depending on where white space was available: most often it is found in the right or the top margin or in the title block at the center of pages with woodcut borders.) The number on this label was often duplicated in an inked inscription at the top right corner of the title page. Usually yet another label with the van Ess catalogue number was pasted to a blank page at the end of the pamphlet so that the number appeared as a filing tab over the top of the pamphlet; these tabs (or fragments of them) often survive on pamphlets at Union, but other libraries may well have removed them. Often the title pages also have numbers entered by libraries that had bound a number of pamphlets together in what is called in German a Sammelband. Most or all of van Ess's pamphlets had been removed from such volumes, and their spines were characteristically reinforced with strips of pastepaper, which may not have been retained by the libraries that acquired pamphlets from Union.

The three images below illustrate characteristics of Reformation pamphlets from the collection of Leander van Ess, and their captions point out identifying marks:

Van Ess Catalogus D 252 (VD16 L4464). Martin Luther, Die drey Symbola...
(Wittenberg: Hans Weiss, 1538). Pasted label and tab (above the page) with
vanEss D-catalogue number "252"; series number "32 .4"; old Union Seminary
catalogue mark "96 A-1"; pastepaper spine reinforcement.

Van Ess Catalogus D 113 (VD16 L 4313). Martin Luther, Das Ihesus Christus eyn geborner Jude sey…
(Wittenberg: Lukas Cranach d.Ä and Christian Döring, 1523).
Pasted label with the D-catalogue number and remains of a tab above the page; series
number "20. 80"; old Union Seminary catalogue mark "95 D-5"; former owner's monogram
"MK W" (at bottom of woodcut frame) and associated red number "17" at bottom of page

Van Ess Catalogus D 2022 (VD16 L 4140). Martin Luther, Eyn bryeff an dye
Christen yn Nydder land (Erfurt : Wolfgang Stürmer, 1523). Remains of removed
van Ess D-catalogue label; series number "32. 85"; old Union Seminary catalogue
mark "91 D-5"; former owner's monogram "MK W" (at bottom of woodcut frame)
and associated red number "8" at bottom of page.