About the collection


With its extensive collection of historical printed works, the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek assumes a top position among the German and European libraries. It is one of the most important libraries preserving historical holdings. The collection encompasses printed works published worldwide, in all languages, since the beginning of book printing in the 15th century, up to the year of publication 1950. With regard to content, the collection has a universal orientation.

Almost one million printed works alone date back to the time before 1850. Within the framework of the cooperative, national-bibliographic acquisition programme of the working group Sammlung Deutscher Drucke (Collection of German Prints), the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek is in charge of printed works of the period between 1450 and 1600 and music prints up to 1800 in addition.

Further information about the "Sammlung Deutscher Drucke"

Historical printed works have been entered in BSB DISCOVER!. Moreover, special databases on defined collections offer more in-depth information and increasingly also access to the digital copies of historical printed works.

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BSB DISCOVER!     BSB-Ink online     VD 16     VD 17

Main focuses of content

A broad variety of historical prints is collected in accordance with scholarly criteria, spanning all subject areas of humanities and sciences. Thus, the collection includes all fields of scholarship and art in all languages.

With respect to content, a focus is on historical and classical studies, theology, German and Romance linguistics and literature, philosophy, literature from and about Eastern-Central and South-Eastern Europe and musicology, among other things.

Due to its position and its tasks as a central regional and archive library, literature from and about Bavaria represents a further field of collection emphasis of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.

Further information in the collections:
Antiquity  |  Bavarica  |  History  |  Music  |  Eastern Europe

Historical development

Collection at the time of foundation

The beginnings of the collection of historical prints date back to the foundation of the Munich court library in 1558. With the purchase of the private library of the Orientalist Johann Albrecht Widmanstetter (1506 – 1557) Albrecht V also acquired around 900 printed works for the court library.

In 1571, over 9,500 printed works, predominantly of the 16th century and with a focus on the disciplines of classical studies, philology, theology, history and jurisprudence, came to the library with the acquisition of the library of the Augsburg patrician and bibliophile Johann Jakob Fugger (1516 – 1575). Fugger's collection also included the library of the Nuremberg physician and humanist Hartmann Schedel (1440 – 1514), with around 700 printed works of the 15th century, which Fugger had acquired in 1552.

Under the reign of the successors of Albrecht V, the library was further expanded, for example by the acquisition of the book collection of the Augsburg councillor Johann Heinrich Herwart (1520 – 1583) in 1585, containing around 1,500 volumes of valuable music manuscripts and prints, and the acquisition of the universally oriented scholarly library of Johann Georg von Werdenstein (1542 – 1608), capitular of Augsburg and Eichstätt, in 1592, with numerous classical, philosophic, theological and historical works, as well as juridical and medical literature, Italian and French poetry and numerous early music prints of the 15th and 16th century.

17th and 18st century

During the subsequent centuries, the library was expanded continuously, with emphasis on writings from the fields of history, constitutional law and theology. At the start of the 17th century, the holdings of books amounted to over 18,000 volumes.

During the 18th century the Bavarian rulers further increased the holdings of valuable and rare printed works by acquiring famous book collections and private libraries. After the abolition of the Jesuit order, the library of the Munich Jesuit college, containing around 23,000 volumes, was taken over in the year 1773.

Under the reign of Elector Karl Theodor, acquisitions focused on French and Italian literature. In 1783, the private library of the Florentine humanist Petrus Victorius came to the Munich court library. It contained numerous Italian printed works of antique authors of the 15th and 16th century. The collection of jurisprudential and historical literature was further expanded by purchasing the private library of the jurist and academy founder Johann Georg von Lori in the year 1787, and of the private library of the jurist and statesman Wiguläus von Kreittmayr.

Around 1800, the court library held over 70,000 volumes.

Secularisation and transfer of the Mannheim court library

The strongest growth of the collection of historical prints was caused by the abolition of the Bavarian monasteries and their libraries in 1802/ 03. Their focus was on literature from the fields of humanities and sciences.

With the transfer of the Mannheim court library of Elector Karl Theodor, 100,000 further volumes came to the Court and State Library of Munich in 1803/ 04. The focus of this collections was on the disciplines of theology and history, as well as literature on history and sciences. It also included all areas of contemporary universal scholarship.

After the re-arrangement and cataloguing of the printed works had been concluded in the year 1818, the holdings of printed works amounted to over 420,000 volumes and 220,000 double copies.

Classification of the historical prints

After the enormous growth due to the secularisation and the transfer of the Mannheim court library, the re-organisation and registration of the collection was owed to the librarian Martin Schrettinger (1772 – 1851). He divided it into twelve main classes, originally including around 180 collection groups and so-called special collection groups.

The cataloguing and use of historical printed works takes place in various departments today. Historical prints can be found by means of their classification marks among the general holdings of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek on the one hand. Printed sheet music, Oriental, Asian and Eastern European historical prints are catalogued and preserved by the corresponding special departments. Particularly valuable printed works and special holdings are administrated by the Department of Manuscripts and Rare Books.

The further course of the 19th century up to the Second World War

The holdings continued growing steadily during the 19th century. Acquisition took account of all fields of knowledge, thus printed works were acquired also from the fields of humanities and sciences, in particular the philology and history of the German-language and Romance-language countries, as well as medicine.

During the first half of the 19th century, numerous works of literature about Bavaria came to the library through the acquisition of the private libraries of Karl Albrecht von Vacchiery, Johann Kaspar von Lippert and Franz Joseph von Kloeckel, and through the reintroduction of the mandatory deposit of printed matter produced in Bavaria.

In order to fund the expansion of the holdings, a disputed sale of (putative) double copies took place at the start of the 19th century, including a large number of incunabula. The proceeds served to finance the purchase of the collection of the French Orientalist Etienne Quatremère, with around 45,000 printed works of the 16th to the 19th century. The holdings of historical prints were additionally increased by works from the collections of the Bavarian rulers.

Around the year 1900, the Court and State Library administrated around one million volumes.

Considerable numbers of historical printed works were lost during the Second World War. While the special collections of incunabula, block books, parchment prints and further, particularly valuable printed works administrated by the Department of Manuscripts and Rare Books had been evacuated as of 1940, the general holdings remained in place. Around 500,000 volumes were destroyed in the air raids of the year 1943. Due to the systematic arrangement, complete classification-mark groups and subject areas were lost. Among them, there were collection groups from the fields of humanities and sciences, the Bible collection, art-historical literature, historical-geographical literature, classical studies, academy writings, travel descriptions and the major part of the newer doctoral theses.

List of collection groups lost by fire

Post-war period

The reconstruction of the collection started after the war. Numerous re-acquisitions led to an increase of the holdings as of the 1950s, even though only one third of the books lost in the war could be acquired again up to the present.

In spite of decreasing budgets, the library continues acquiring literature of scholarly relevance in a systematic, interdisciplinary manner, expanding the important historical holdings. Last but not least, the support of funding coalitions with various foundations is required for the expansion and further shaping of the collection's profile, due to the high prices.


Kulturkosmos der Renaissance: die Gründung der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek: Katalog der Ausstellung zum 450-jährigen Jubiläum, 7. März – 1. Juni 2008, und der Schatzkammerausstellung "Musikschätze der Wittelsbacher", 9. Juni – 6. Juli 2008. Herausgegeben von der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek; Katalog und Ausstellung: Claudia Fabian ... Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2008. Bayerische Staatsbibliothek: Ausstellungskataloge. 79.

Lebendiges Büchererbe: Säkularisation, Mediatisierung und die Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. Redaktion: Dieter Kudorfer. München: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, 2003. Bayerische Staatsbibliothek: Ausstellungskataloge. 74.

Thesaurus librorum: 425 Jahre Bayerische Staatsbibliothek: Ausstellung München 18. August – 1. Oktober 1983. Ausstellung und Katalogredaktion: Karl Dachs und Elisabeth Klemm. Wiesbaden: Reichert, 1983. Bayerische Staatsbibliothek: Ausstellungskataloge. 28.

Erwerbungen aus drei Jahrzehnten, 1948 – 1978: abendländische und orientalische Handschriften, Inkunabeln und seltene Drucke, Noten und Landkarten: Ausstellung April – Juli 1978. Ausstellung und Katalogredaktion: Karl Dachs ... Wiesbaden: Reichert, 1978. Bayerische Staatsbibliothek: Ausstellungskataloge. 16.

Handbuch der historischen Buchbestände  (entry Bayerische Staatsbibliothek)