UPATE: Buxheim Auction Receipts Discovered in Sutro Library Archives!

The original 1883 auction receipts detailing Adolph Sutro’s purchases of Buxheim manuscripts and printed books have been discovered in the Sutro Library archives. Sixteen narrow strips of paper list each lot number from the catalog as well as the sale price in Marks. Here are the totals in summary:

  • 1,125 lots purchased, out of 4507 numbered lots in the auction catalog
  • 156 manuscripts purchased, out of 452 total
  • 149 incunables purchased, out of 587 total
  • Total cost: 9,388.75 M
  • Most expensive single lot: Nr. 4336a (Messkataloge von 1571-1625, in 4 vols.) = 3,600 M
  • Most expensive incunable: Nr. 3131 (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Peter Lombard, Mainz: Peter Schoeffer, 1469) = 350 M
  • Most expensive manuscript: Nr. 2604 (Nicholas Lyra, Postilla, 15th c.) = 152 M

In November, 2021, after a long day at the Sutro Library Archives in San Francisco, I went through the last folder before closing time. There, in Box 5, Folder 168, I found 16 narrow strips of paper with what looked like long tabulations of numbers. On closer examination, I found the telltale sign: the ink stamp of the auction house of Dr. Carl Förster of Munich. This was it. These were the original receipts, checked and rechecked, of Adolph Sutro’s purchases at the September, 1883, auction of the Buxheim library. Sutro purchased about a quarter of the cataloged lots, and almost a third of the medieval manuscripts on sale. The total cost of the purchased lots was 12,370.20 Marks, plus a 5% commission totaling 12,988.75 M. From this was subtracted a discount of 3,600 M for a final total cost of 9,388.75 M.

We now have some real sense of the immense loss to the Sutro Library that occurred as a result of the destruction of the Battery Street warehouse in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, at least in terms of Sutro’s ownership of Buxheim manuscripts and printed books. Of the 156 Buxheim manuscripts listed on the receipts as purchases, only 4 have been found to date still extant in the Sutro Library. It is possible that a few may still be found, but most of the others can be assumed to have been lost. Of the 149 incunables purchased, none have been found among the 60 or so that still exist in the library today. It is likely that they were all lost as well. It is possible that some few other volumes survived, as about two dozen of the purchased lots listed on the receipts seem to be identical to extant books today in other libraries. The question this raises is: did Sutro’s heirs sell any of the books in his library between his death in 1898 and the final donation of the library to the State of California in 1913? This is a possibility that must still be confirmed by additional research, but if books purchased by Sutro in 1883, as documented by the now-found receipts, currently reside in other institutions, then subsequent sale, probably through a dealer, seems to be the most logical answer.

4 of the 16 strips of auction receipts
Receipt 16, List of Manuscripts
Dr. Carl Förster Auction House
List of shipping cases from various sales