Bibliography and Printing History (some imaginary) from Frits Knuf

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Bibliography and Printing History (some imaginary) from Frits Knuf


By Michael Stillman

This month we review our first catalogue from Frits Knuf Antiquarian Books. Frits Knuf is located in Vendome, about a hundred miles from Paris, France. Founded and operated for many years by Frits Knuf, it is currently managed by Anita and Rene van Elferen. Their specialty is old and rare bibliographies and other books about the printing and bookselling trades. The books they offer are not only collectible in themselves, but of great assistance to those who collect earlier antiquarian books, especially those printed in Europe (but with a few American works available as well). Here are a few items we found in the Frits Knuf catalogue.

The de Bure family were book collectors, booksellers, auctioneers, and all around bibliophiles for 200 years. However, when Jean Jacques de Bure died in 1853, the library that many generations of the family had assembled was put up for auction. Item 13 is a copy of the catalogue of that 1853 auction, Catalogue Des Livres Rares et Precieux...De La Bibliotheque De Feu M. J.J. De Bure... The auction contained 1,853 lots. Priced at €400 (Euros, or US equivalent $520).

As the de Bure collection was being dispersed in Europe, a new collection was about to begin in the new world. By the time Robert Hoe's collection was similarly sold at auction in 1911, it would have become the greatest private collection in America. Among the items Hoe owned was a collection of bookbindings, which he pictured and described in a catalogue in 1895. That catalogue is One hundred and seventy-six historic and artistic bookbindings dating from the fifteenth century to the present time... Hoe's collection, naturally, started from the Gutenberg Bible, and included many illuminated manuscripts as well as books. Item 27 was limited to 200 copies. €2,100 (US $2,723).

There aren't many people who still question the recognition of Johannes Gutenberg as the first printer, but for much of the 17th and 18th centuries, a controversy raged. Several others were at times put forward as candidates (sort of like various names have been proposed as the "real" author of Shakespeare's works). Most notable among them was Laurens Jansz Koster. He had much support from various fellow Dutchmen, until Dutch researcher Antonius van der Linde debunked the claims. Item 18 is an 1823 booklet of twelve songs celebrating the fourth centenary of Koster's "invention" of the printing press. That would place the invention at 1423. Indeed, the book contains an image of Koster's press with the date 1423. Like the claim, the image of the press is spurious, as is the supposed portrait of Koster. However, that does not mean that the songs celebrating his non-invention aren't good. We have never heard them, but you can at least see them in Volks-Liedekens...Laurens Jansz. €125 (US $162).