Charterhouse Buxheim’s collection of incunabula ranked among the very largest in Europe in the early sixteenth century. Its proximity to Augsburg, Ulm, Memmingen, and other early production sites of printed books made their acquisition easier, and given the charterhouse’s wealth in the late fifteenth century, an investment in this new technology made sense as a way to increase the size of the library rapidly. Finally, with the donation of a private library reported to be some 450 volumes strong, both in manuscripts and printed books, Hilprand Brandenburg enriched the charterhouse library with several hundred incunabula himself around the time of his entrance into the monastery in 1505.
In researching the provenance and locating the current repositories of these Buxheim treasures, many of which are in absolutely pristine, like new condition, we have several resources at our disposal. The first is the Material Evidence in Incunabula (MEI) internet catalog, presented in conjunction with the online Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC) site that is sponsored by the British Library and the Consortium of European Research Libraries (CERL). Here some 100 volumes are listed as once belonging to Buxheim. Oxford University, Cambridge University, and Harvard University rank highest on this list in terms of holdings. The Bodleian’s own Bod-Inc Online catalog is very helpful. Then we also have the online resource INKA, or the Inkunabel Katalog, hosted by the Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen, for libraries in Germany. Finally there are some of the individual library catalogs online that provide good provenance search engines, such as the Huntington Library in San Marino, California.
In terms of print resources, Paul Needham’s list of Hilprand manuscripts and printed books is very helpful. Published as “The Library of Hilprand Brandenburg” in Bibliothek und Wissenschaft, 29 (1996): 95-125, Needham lists 91 incunabula or post-incunabula (numbers 36-126) once owned by Hilprand and identifiable by his book plate and/or inscription. An addendum to this list was published a few years later (“Thirteen More Books from the Library of Hilprand Brandenburg,” Einbandforschung, 4 (1999): 23-25) with another 11 incunables, bringing the total number to 102. Another excellent point of departure is Volker Honemann, “The Buxheim Collection and Its Dispersal,” Renaissance Studies, 9.2 (1995): 166-188. Honemann lists Buxheim incunabula from the British Library and Oxford, with 42 numbers from the BL and 42 from the Bodleian.
Finally we can refer to the 1883 auction catalog, which separates the incunabula into Section III, with a total of 541 entries in the main section (numbers 2816-3356) and 46 in an addendum section under “Varia” (numbers 4282-4303a), for a total of 587 entries. To this we can add another 13 items found (incorrectly) under Section I, “Theology and Philosophy,” ordinarily reserved for books printed after 1501. The grand total of incunabula then in the 1883 auction catalog is 600. The Ludwig Rosenthal catalogs of 1884-85 (XL and XLI) are unfortunately less helpful. Although they undoubtedly contain Buxheim incunabula, these are not identified as having belonged to Buxheim, and without such positive identification we can’t be certain that a particular printed book belonged to Buxheim or not, even if it is the same edition as a work in the auction catalog. There are certainly incunabula in the Rosenthal catalogs that are not from Buxheim.
With 600 incunabula listed in the 1883 auction catalog, we can add those found using the resources listed above that are not listed in the auction catalog. These total some 137 items. This would yield an initial base line number of 737 texts printed before 1501 that were once part of the Charterhouse Buxheim library. The collection as a whole may have numbered 1,000 or more volumes.
The catalog presented here lists 316 items at present and is updated as new information becomes available. It is only the start of what can hopefully be a much more inclusive list of holding institutions as well as private collections. Forty-nine institutions are listed here as repositories of one or more Buxheim incunables. Of these, the Huntington Library has the most, with 81 volumes. Next in line are the British Library (41), Oxford University (33), the Württembergische Landesbibliothek in Stuttgart (17), and Cambridge University (14). Interestingly, the Bavarian State Library in München has only two incunables from Buxheim, even though it has a considerable number of Buxheim manuscripts. This is most likely due to the fact that Buxheim was secularized into private hands in 1803, not to the Kingdom of Bavaria, and by the time of the public auction in 1883, the then Royal Library already had a great number of incunabula from other Bavarian monasteries, including many seconds.
One remaining mystery is how many incunabula are, or were, in private hands. Adolph Sutro presumably purchased a considerable number at the 1883 auction, this being his primary interest, but almost all of these were destroyed in a warehouse fire in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. We may never know how many Buxheim incunabula were lost in that one tragic event alone.