Traces of Time

In early summer 2021, Dr. Elizabeth Hebbard, primary principal investigator of The Peripheral Manuscripts Project, conducted a site visit at Xavier University. As she began to examine one of the works selected for digitization, she observed that the identifier printed on the book did not match the identifier in the records of the Peripheral Manuscript Project. A discrepancy like this can be caused by human error, but, in this case, the source was much more interesting. The different identifiers were traces of the prior lives of Xavier’s books.

During my initial collection survey, I identified several incunabula and other early printed works containing manuscript fragments that were stamped with “St. Leonard College,” “Edwin Auweiler,” and “Oldenburg Seminary” among other names. While stamped with these different names (and sometimes stamped with more than one name), the majority of these items feature shelfmarks used by prior holding institutions that are prominently inked in black or white on their covers and/or spines. In some cases, the same shelfmark can also be found on the inside of the front cover or the flyleaf in pencil.

Example of shelfmark on spine of volume with manuscript waste appearing in the binding of an item that will be digitized as part of the grant. BR65 .C4 1556, Works of Saint John Chrysostom.

The identifier on the spine that Dr. Hebbard had noticed was issued by an earlier owner of that manuscript, not by Xavier University. While Xavier does not use these shelfmarks for collection management, they do offer important clues for the provenance and ownership history of each item. Recognizing the similarity in handwriting among the old shelfmarks, I deduced that they all came from the same source. And, since “St. Leonard College” was the most frequently found stamp, I began my research into the provenance of these items there. 

My first stop was the Special Collections administrative files. From the files of my predecessors, I knew we had acquired a large collection of rare books from St. Leonard College in Dayton, Ohio under the close direction of Academic Vice President Frank Brennan, S.J., in 1982. Brennan brokered the purchase of 686 rare books on topics such as moral theology, patristics, and ecclesiastical history for $45,500. Since the books had been a part of St. Leonard’s library, they had been cataloged and marked with their classification scheme (i.e. the black or white shelfmarks on the covers/spines that Dr. Hebbard had found) before coming to Xavier. Records from the University Library (XUA-27) revealed information on Xavier’s re-cataloging practices of these items.  Using Fr. Brennan’s records in University Archives, I also learned that he felt many had physical damage (worming) and that there were “not many original bindings for earlier works.” 

But, what about all the other ownership marks and names in these books? Why did St. Leonard College have books with stamps from Oldenburg Seminary? Who was Edwin Auweiler? For those answers, like any good librarian, I first turned to Google. Maybe I could figure out where Oldenburg Seminary was located and what their religious order affiliation was. Since St. Leonard College was Franciscan, maybe Oldenburg was too? Did individuals from Oldenburg Seminary move to St. Leonard and bring books with them? 

While doing this work, I struck gold in the form of an article written by Michael T. Krieger. His 1995 piece “The Seminary Libraries of the Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist” carefully traces the history of St. Leonard College (which I learned is in the Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist) and its library. Fr. Edwin Auweiler, a German-born Franciscan, was a prolific book collector whose purchases filled the Oldenburg Seminary when it was built after 1929 (Krieger 297).  Krieger notes that Oldenburg Seminary (Indiana) was in the same province as St. Leonard’s and that when Oldenburg closed in 1958, its library was sent to the new St. Leonard College. When St. Leonard faced financial difficulty in the early 1980s, it sold its library to Xavier. 

Participating in The Peripheral Manuscripts Project has provided an excellent opportunity for me to delve further into the provenance of Xavier’s manuscripts and incunabula. An important result of the project will be the addition of previous ownership names in the University Library’s catalog records. These additions will help remote researchers, who rely on the library’s catalog entries for thorough and accurate descriptions when they cannot visit in-person, understand the custodial journey of the books. Furthermore, I now know from Krieger’s research that the University of Dayton, another participant in The Peripheral Manuscripts Project, also has rare books from St. Leonard’s Library.

Another significant aspect of the project has been sharing the work with Xavier students during Special Collections instruction sessions. During the fall semester, Dr. Jennifer Grayson’s History 262: Jewish Civilization class visited Special Collections and conducted their own hands-on investigations using some of the St. Leonard library books. Prompted to examine the physical materiality of the books, the students asked questions about the identification marks, made their own observations on ink type and marking techniques, and formulated plans to conduct further research for answers to their questions. This exercise engaged the students in active historical research that had real-world benefits for the scholarly community. It’s been exciting to involve Xavier students in the background research for Xavier’s participation in The Peripheral Manuscripts project.

Students in Dr. Grayson’s history class examine rare books from Special Collections, Xavier University Library

By Anne Ryckbost, University Archivist and Special Collections Librarian, Xavier University Library

Krieger, Michael T. “The Seminary Libraries of the Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist.” Libraries & Culture, vol. 30, no. 3, University of Texas Press, 1995, pp. 284–308, http://www.jstor.org/stable/25542772.

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