In 1648, Duke Augustus the Younger of the House of Welf tried, but failed, to purchase the remarkable Das Große Stammbuch, a “friendship book” that is signed by some of the most notable figures of 17th-century Europe. Augustus wanted the unique book for the library he was building in Wolfenbüttel, Germany and, almost 400 years later, the book has been purchased by the library for a cool £2.5m
While he failed to purchase the book in his lifetime, Augustus played a large role in collecting many of the hundreds of thousands of books that now sit on the shelves of the Herzog August Bibliothek, whic is one of the world’s oldest libraries, wand is named in his honour.
In 1648, he attempted to purchase a very special book that belonged to a German merchant and diplomat named Philipp Hainhofer, who would ask notable people he met on his travels to sign his album amicorum, or friendship book, also known as a stammbuch. Hainhofer’s friendship book is just one of over 25,000 friendship books recorded from around the world, but it is arguably the most impressive, boasting signatures from the likes of European figures including Cosimo De’ Medici, and the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II and Christian IV, the king of Denmark and Norway. Each individual would task an artist to accompany their signature with a painting and, after 50 years of work, Hainhofer’s the book includes over 100 beautiful illustrations.
Hainhofer, helped in the creation of the Herzog August library, but died in 1647. August attempted to obtain the rare book for the library, but was ultimately unable to. The book became privately owned, and faded out of the public eye. It was at one point considered lost, before it resurfaced at an auction in London in 1931. 373 years after Augustus first tried to buy it, the book has been purchased by his library in a private sale last year. Researches discovered its connection to the old library, and sold it for €2.8m.
As The Guardian reports, the book was sold at auction by Sotheby’s, and was described as “extraordinary”, and the finest example of a friendship book. “No other work of art better reflects the deeply challenging political tensions that were being navigated in Europe at this time,” said the auction house.
Minister for science and culture in Niedersachsen, Björn Thümler, called the purchase “a sensation and a stroke of luck for the preservation of cultural assets in Germany”.
Peter Burschel, Herzog August’s director, said: “It provides unparalleled insights into the early modern political culture of trade and commerce in art.” He went on to sate the library plans to make the book accessible to the public via exhibitions.