Over several decades in the second half of the 19th century, Professor Reinhold Bechstein assembled a massive Handbibliothek, a German reference and scholarly library, for the study of Germanistik [German Studies]. The University of Pennsylvania's German Department purchased this entire library, and with that one acquisition gained one of the largest collections of Germanistik in North America.
The main source of information about the contents of the Bechstein Germanic Library is a pamphlet publication issued to mark the opening of the library, which was accompanied by a series of lectures, on March 21, 1896. That publication describes the impressive scope of the collection: 15,000 volumes and 3,000 pamphlets. The library's classification was originally as follows:
- Periodicals, works of reference
- General works relating to German philology and literature
- Histories of German literature in general
- German antiquities, culture, and folklore
- German language, dialects, metrics, and names
- Gothic, Norse, Old High German, and Middle High German Literature
- German Literature from 1500 to 1750
- Modern German Literature
Also noted as significant holdings in the Library were: critical editions of major German writers; collections including the Bibliothek des Litterarischen Vereins in Stuttgart, first published beginning in 1843; an important 16th-century edition of works by Hans Sachs; early printed works by Martin Luther and other reformers; and literature of Goethe, Herder, and others. Bechstein also prepared his own collections of reviews, learned society publications, and pamphlet publications on philology and literature.
Information for researchers
At some point a number of years after the original acquisition, much of the Bechstein Library was transferred from the German Department to the Library, joining other holdings in German language and literature. Most of the items from the Bechstein Library remain part of the library's holdings today. However, it is difficult to identify these materials in the online catalog because their Bechstein provenance is usually not indicated. At present, only a small number of titles (under 100) can be located with a collection search.
About the collector
Reinhold Bechstein (1833-1894) was Professor der deutschen und neueren Literatur [Professor of German and Modern Literature] at the Universität Rostock, Germany, from 1871-1894. He specialized in medieval drama, and in philology, particularly in Middle High German, and in 16th-century studies. His published a critical edition of the tale of Tristan (Tristan and Isolde). Professor Bechstein's father, Ludwig Bechstein, was Librarian at Meiningen, and this association may have inspired his interest in building a scholarly collection.