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Angéline Rais (University of London)

Angéline Rais

Angéline Rais
Image Credit: Dominique Rais

Fellow in Research Area 4: "Literary Currencies"

January – March 2024

Assessing German Medieval Literature in the Twentieth Century: The Role of Antiquarian Booksellers

Although an antiquarian bookseller has to master commercial rhetoric to attract buyers, it is his knowledge of rare books and ability to communicate it that allow him to secure deals. As well as ensuring the success of his business, his expertise also contributes to the scholarship on manuscripts and printed items. The first half of the twentieth century is a key moment to explore how members of the trade shaped the way European medieval book heritage was perceived as research object and financial product. Besides an increase in the sale of rare volumes, this period saw the development of scholarship on medieval books and researchers shared their findings and editions of texts in academic publications. Dealers too promoted this study actively by compiling modern catalogues, hiring experts in medieval and literary studies and publishing scholarly journals and monographs.

Rais’s project will provide new insights into this by showing how booksellers working in German-speaking countries between 1900 and 1945 played an important role in valuing German medieval literary texts. Using descriptions and prices in catalogues produced by some of the main dealers of the time, including the brothers Ludwig (1840–1928) and Jacques (1854–1937) Rosenthal, based in Munich, Martin Breslauer (1871–1940) in Berlin and Karl W. Hiersemann (1854–1928) in Leipzig, her research focuses on the ways in which works produced in the Middle Ages were considered in a scholarly and economic perspective. By doing so, it also analyses how texts written for example by Rudolf von Ems, Wolfram von Eschenbach and Hugo von Trimberg were revaluated several centuries after their production by booksellers who did not appreciate them for their contents primarily but as merchandise. This will illustrate the close relationship between market and scholarship which were and still are interlinked and fuelled each other.

Angéline Rais is an early career research fellow at the Institute of English Studies, based in the School of Advanced Study at the University of London. She works in the history of the book, specialising in the study of the antiquarian book-trade and the formation of libraries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Her doctoral thesis (Oxford, in preparation for publication) investigated the market in rare books in Switzerland in the first half of the nineteenth century through the acquisitions of the English collector Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792–1872) there in 1822–23 and their dispersal after his death. As a postdoctoral fellow on the ERC-funded CULTIVATE MSS Project (University of London), she explored the activities of German antiquarian booksellers, in particular Jacques Rosenthal (1854–1937) of Munich and Martin Breslauer (1871–1940) of Berlin, in the early twentieth century. Her current research develops this topic and examines the contributions of dealers to the scholarship on medieval manuscript and printed books. She has also catalogued rare books at Lambeth Palace Library in London, the Bibliothèque Mazarine in Paris, the Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire in Fribourg (Switzerland) and the Médiathèque-Valais in Sion (Switzerland).