A page in history
Library, museum team for Making History: The Nuremberg and Augsburg Chronicles, November 10 to December 30
GLENS FALLS, New York— Perhaps it is fitting that a city whose history was written alongside that of the nation’s paper-making industry has within its borders a collection of rare books that rivals that of any Ivy League university. In a city with Finch Paper and SCA Tissue on opposite banks of the Hudson River, cultural institutions are preserving masterpieces of Western printing.
Beginning this weekend, The Hyde Collection will showcase two copies of Nuremberg Chronicle, one copy of Augsburg Chronicle, and an extremely rare page from the Gutenberg Bible — all originally purchased by Hyde founder Louis Fiske Hyde.
During research for Making History: The Nuremberg and Augsburg Chronicles, an exhibition opening Sunday, Hyde Director of Curatorial Affairs and Programming Jonathan Canning discovered that Mr. Hyde purchased a second copy of Nuremberg Chronicle, which he presented to Crandall Public Library, as well as a page from the historic Gutenberg Bible, among other early printed books.
“It’s really quite extraordinary that a small town nestled in the foothills of the Adirondacks has these treasures from the early decades of printing,” Canning said. “The Hyde having both a Nuremberg Chronicle — especially one of such exceptional quality — and an Augsburg Chronicle is remarkable, but to learn that right here in Glens Falls, there is a second Nuremberg Chronicle, a page from the Gutenberg Bible, and other rare early printed works, is unbelievable. Our city’s collection rivals that of the Library of Congress, Vassar College, or Harvard University.”
Mr. Hyde was president of Finch Pruyn, a company founded in 1865 by his wife Charlotte’s father that went on to produce paper and, as Finch Paper, is today the largest industry in Glens Falls. Hyde was a well-known bibliophile; his collection of rare first-edition classics, law texts, novels, and encyclopedias lines the walls of historic Hyde House Library.
Records show he aggressively pursued purchase of a page from the Gutenberg Bible, working with a dealer in Frankfurt, Germany, before ultimately securing this page from England through William H. Hill, a Fort Edward antiquarian books dealer, in 1933. (See page, above right.)
The Gutenberg Bible was the first substantial book printed in the West with movable metal type. Before its printing in 1454 or 1455, books were copied by hand or printed from engraved wooden blocks. When Johann Gutenberg invented a printing press, he revolutionized the dissemination of knowledge by making the mass production of printed books faster and less expensive.
Mr. Hyde was an early supporter of Crandall Public Library, a key proponent of construction of the building at its current location. He was friends with architect Charles Platt, and rooms in the library are named after the Hyde and Hoopes families, marking their considerable contributions. For many years, Mrs. Hyde’s curator used her New York City art connections to organize public exhibitions in the library. The Hyde role is further explored in the library’s Celebrating 125 years, 1892-2017 exhibition, which runs through December in its Folklife Center Gallery.
“The Crandall Public Library is a singular organization whose collections span the breadth of the published word from 1454 to today’s electronic formats,” said Kathy Naftaly, library director. “It is a testimony to the vision of Mr. Hyde and his faith in our community that both the library and the Museum seamlessly continue the tradition of incorporating each other’s holdings in exhibitions. Everyone benefits from this synergy.”
For the duration of the Making History exhibition, which runs through December 30, the Crandall copy of Nuremberg Chronicle and the Gutenberg Bible page will be exhibited at The Hyde.
“We are happy to have the opportunity to display our copy of The Nuremberg Chronicleand to be part of this important exhibition,” said Alan Rhodes, chairman of the Crandall Trust’s board of trustees.
The Nuremberg Chronicle is a history of the world that dates to the late-fifteenth century. Commissioned by Sebald Schreyer and Sebastian Kammermeister, the 600-page book was created between 1493 and 1497 in Germany. It was the most complex publication of its day, exploiting the new creation of the printing press.
With editions in Latin and German, the tome tells the history of the world as it was believed at the time. Illustrated with more than 1,800 woodcut images by Michael Wolgemut and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff, the Nuremberg Chronicle relies heavily on the Bible.
“This book epitomizes a medieval Christian world view: History begins and concludes according to Biblical accounts,” Canning said. “The Hyde’s copy is one of the rarer hand-tinted volumes. It has been described by scholars as one of the finest examples of the Chronicle in the country.”
Both copies of Nuremberg Chronicle will be exhibited in the galleries, with prints of their pages showcased on the walls.
In the years following release of Nuremberg Chronicle, an Augsburg, Germany, printer named Johann Schönsperger abridged the text, commissioned woodcuts largely copied from the earlier book, and released a smaller format, in what could be argued to be among the earliest examples of theft of intellectual property.
The Hyde’s copy of the resulting Augsburg Chronicle is included in the exhibition.
ABOVE RIGHT: Johann Gutenberg (German, ca. 1398-1468), Page from the Gutenberg Bible (Numbers 12:7 – 13:27), Mainz, 1455. Glens Falls, New York. Crandall Public Library, Gift of Louis Fiske Hyde.