Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Lost and Found

As I've told a number of people since I started in the business of selling manuscripts and fragments, one of the joys of the work lies in acquiring items that are under-appreciated and finding good homes for them, where they will be valued and appreciated. Here's a story of a moment when I found not just a good home for a manuscript, but its proper home.

1517 Low German Manuscript Charter on Vellum

Earlier this year, I purchased (online, where most of my manuscript items come from) an interesting little Low German charter, dated in the year 1517. It had been offered by an American seller as a parchment manuscript 300 or 400 years old, but I could see the correct date from the images given (see the last six words in the picture above), and I was immediately interested. I was able to buy it, and it shipped to me in January.

One of the things I do when I purchase something like this is to try, first of all, to learn more about it: I decipher the hand, read what I can, and try to find out something about the people involved. In short, I use the skills of paleography and historical research to add to my knowledge about the item. Any knowledge I add equates to added value so that I can try to sell such an item at a profit: I've literally added value to it in the form of knowledge.

In this case, however, my internet searches turned up something that I'd never encountered before: a charter very much like the one I had was listed online as part of the Lost Art Index, having gone missing during World War II. 

I emailed the contact person for this particular item, Dr. Peter Worm, at the Landschaftsverband Westfalen-Lippe in Münster. He quickly wrote back, identifying my charter on the basis of an old finding aid as certainly being their lost charter. It had probably been taken (or perhaps even looted) as a souvenir by an American serviceman, he suggested, during the war.

It never occurred to me to do anything other than return it, and so I mailed it right off to them; the archive is delighted to have it back. Coincidentally, the archive's current location in Münster is only a few miles from my maternal family's ancestral home in Ladbergen, though there was no obvious or direct connection to my own ancestors in the charter, of course.

The owner of the archive this charter belongs to, and thus the owner of my charter, turns out to be Prince Maximilian zu Bentheim-Tecklenburg. And it was a great surprise and delight to receive an email a couple of weeks ago ("Von meinem iPhone gesendet," it said) from Princess Marissa zuBentheim-Tecklenburg, thanking me for the return of the document. Probably the first and last email I will ever receive from a princess, complete with a Schloss as the return (postal) address!

Dr. Worm has posted an entry about the recovery of the charter (in German) on the Landschaftsverband Westfalen-Lippe's blog. But it seemed useful to tell the story from my side, too, if only to share one of the more unusual experiences I've had in the manuscript market. 


  1. That is an amazing story! And find!

  2. What a charming story! Thank you so much for sharing it.

  3. What a charming story! Thank you so much for sharing it.