Manuscripts and Historical Prints

Manuscripts from all over the world, unique specimens such as the Thesaurus Picturarum, interesting contemporary documents from politics, society, culture and religion. Incunabula and historical prints complete the documentation of life, work, political activities and religious zeitgeist in the Middle Ages and the early modern period.

Rotes Samtbuch - Gerhard G. pixabay
Picture: Gerhard G.

Manuscripts and Incunabula

ULB Darmstadt holds almost 4.000 manuscripts from the Middle Ages and early modern period, more than 2.000 incunabula and over 100.000 historical prints from before 1800.


The holdings are from the early Middle Ages, late Middle Ages and early modern period (such as the two Nibelungen manuscripts). The instructional manuscripts comprise a large part of the collection: liturgical and prayer books from the theological field as well as legal and medical books. Illuminated manuscripts are very special, as they were usually commissioned.

Although most of the manuscripts are in Latin, there is a large quantity of others in German, mainly 15th century, and Middle Dutch manuscripts, which came from the Cologne collection of Baron Hüpsch. The occasional German commentary can be found in the Latin texts, and a number of fragments have survived.

ULB's manuscript collection came mainly from three sources:

1. Book purchases by the landgraves and grand dukes
The landgraves mostly collected contemporary books for their private reading pleasure. The few manuscripts in these collections came from individual private scholars whose libraries were purchased.

2. Monastery holdings from secularisation
Because of secularisation, monasteries had to hand over the manuscript holdings that they had collected and preserved over centuries to the worldly sovereigns. As a result, Darmstadt library received the following monasteries' holdings:

  • South Hesse
    • Seligenstadt (Benedictine)
    • Hirschhorn (Carmelite)
    • Bensheim (Capuchin)
    • Dieburg (Capuchin)
    • Wimpfen (Dominican)
  • Westphalia
    In the Imperial Recess of 1803 (25.2.1803), the Westphalian monastery property was given to the Landgraviate of Hesse-Darmstadt. This was the area of the Duchy of Westphalia in the Electorate of Cologne, which comprised the parts of the Sauerland that became Prussian territory in 1815.
    • Grafschaft (Benedictine)
    • Bredelar (Cistercian)
    • Meschede (religious refuge for ladies from aristocratic families)
    • Wedinghausen (Premonstratensian)
    • Ewig (Augustinian canons)
    • Glindfeld (Order of the Cross)

3. Baron von Hüpsch Collection

In 1805, Baron von Hüpsch of Cologne bequeathed his significant book collection to Landgrave Louis X (later Grand Duke Louis I). It included a large number of items that originated from the area around Cologne and the Belgian-Dutch region, as well as from the Middle and Lower Rhine. With about 1,000 manuscripts and even more incunabula, it was a tremendous boost to the court library holdings.

The collection is still being expanded today through purchases or donations. Book sponsorships can help to make particularly shabby copies usable again so researchers and the public can benefit from this cultural heritage.

  • Die Goldene Bulle
    (copy made for the Elector of Cologne – 1356/57)
    An important political document of the time, it comprises the rules for the election of the king in the Roman-German Empire, and confirmed important privileges for the seven electors as the voters of the king. Seven of the original copies are still in existence today.
    Memory of the World Programme (opens in new tab)
    Signature: Hs 3065
  • Gero Codex (c. 969)
    The Evangeliary was created at the illumination school of Reichenau Abbey, which contains the Gospel texts for the church year.
    Memory of the World Programme (opens in new tab)
    Signature: Hs 1948
  • Movie of “Die Goldene Bulle” und “Gero Codex”
  • Hitda Codex (c. 1000)
    Signature: Hs 1640
  • Pessach Haggada (c. 1430)
    The richly illustrated manuscript by Israel ben Meir comes from the Hüpsch Collection. 58 sheets of parchment with Hebrew and Aramaic texts.
    Signature: Cod. or. 8
  • Seligenstadt Gospel Book
    Created at Lorsch Abbey.
    Signature: Hs 1957
  • Thesaurus Picturarum
    33 volumes with various themes, colour illustrations, and a reflection of the time, compiled by Marcus zum Lamm.
    Signature: Hs 1971


  • TUdigit – digital collections of ULB Darmstadt
  • TUfind – search portal of ULB Darmstadt
  • Handschriftenportal- Informations of european Manuscripts in german collections

Reference works in the research reading room

  • Descriptions of as yet uncategorised manuscripts
  • Title lists of manuscripts by signature sequence

The Bible collection of Wedinghausen Monastery

Incunabula and historical prints

It was around 1450 that Johannes Gutenberg developed book printing some 40 kilometres from Darmstadt. The printed works created up to the end of 1500 are known as incunabula or cradle prints. This invention meant that publications could be brought to an extensive readership quickly, in large quantities and simultaneously. One of the challenges of this invention lay in replacing the artistically crafted manuscripts with prints of equal artistic value. The ULB holdings contain many examples of this book printing art.


Catalogues in the research reading room

  • Incunabula catalogue by Adolf Schmidt (library director 1904–1923)
    Bibliographic descriptions of the incunabula by sequence of signatures

Further research tools for the historical holdings

The Schleiermacher catalogue
The Schleiermacher catalogue
  • Schleiermacher catalogues
    The card catalogue is important for searching for holdings in the period 1500-1900. The catalogue in book form documents the losses due to war of the Darmstadt Library of Historical Prints after 1501.
    (Andreas Schleiermacher 1811-1830 librarian responsible for the Grand Ducal Court Library)
  • Catalogue of letters
    Individual letters and correspondence from estates
  • Catalogue of rare books
    With special consideration of press prints, ordered by artist, press, print type, cover design, etc.
  • Binding stamp file
    Late-Gothic stamps, rolls and plates, by signature, motif and provenance
    Database with over 740 rubbings from ULB holdings.
  • Ex libris index
  • Provenance index
  • Büchner bibliography
    The electronic reference work for Büchner literature and articles, essays etc. on and about Georg Büchner