First results from the project ‘The Library of Leufstabruk’

Autumn has arrived at Leufstabruk. That means a colorful scenery, winds from the north and a library that becomes to cold to work in. In May I wrote about my First day at the job, the beauty of spring, my expectations for the project ‘The library of Leufstabruk‘ and the privilege to work at such a magnificent place. Five months later it is time to go back to the Netherlands and give a first overview of the results.

The pleasure and privilege to spend a summer at an 18th century estate can not easily be overstated. By all means, you feel special when you drive to work everyday through the Swedish countryside, when you open the door to your office with a ridiculously large vintage key, when you drink coffee in the manor house, when you are surrounded by all major books from the Enlightenment, when you look out the window in pensive mood and talk to the ducks in the pond. Surely, I have the best job in the world. But how does my country life relate to book history?

Leufsta library
The library at Leufstabruk

The answer is material context. The authenticity of Leufstabruk, arguably the best-preserved Walloon bruk in Sweden, is a key element in understanding the library. Walking around the estate opens the door to the 18th century and helps to understand the books on the shelves. Leufstabruk flourished in the 18th century when it was led by entomologist and industrialist Charles De Geer (1720-1778). He was born at Finspång castle, raised in the Dutch Republic from the age of three, and moved back to Sweden at the age of eighteen to lead the iron works at Leufsta. The library building itself was erected by Swedish architect Jean-Eric Rehn in 1755, but Charles De Geer had collected – or at least owned – books long before that time.

The first book that he owned, that he used and that has survived to tell the tale is a Dutch catechism from 1727. At the age of seven Charles wrote his name and the date on the inside of the covers, and included it in his library at Leufsta years later. Even though these catechisms must have been printed in large numbers, the copy at Leufstabruk happens to be to only surviving copy of this edition. Lucky for us, but it does raise the question why a renowned entomologist and industrialist placed his childhood catechism in a library with scientific publications and Enlightenment literature.

Kort begryp der christelyke religie
Catechism owned and inscribed by Charles De Geer at the age of seven.

The catechism does not stand alone. There are several Latin schoolbooks and dictionaries in the library that were clearly used by De Geer for study in the early 1730s. Not only were these books heavily annotated, in one occasion we even found snippets of a Dutch newspaper from 1734 being used as bookmarks. In similar fashion, other books can be linked to his own entomological studies, the Swedish Academy of Sciences, his friends and acquaintances, technical and administrative matters at the iron works, music or simply to the Enlightenment standards in philosophy, literature and sciences.

There is often an identifiable reason why a certain book is in the collection, even though this reason may not always be evident at first glance. A publication about smallpox can be understood in a very general 18th century scientific context, but it gets a different meaning if you know that Charlotta Ribbing, the spouse of Charles De Geer, was among the first in Sweden to inoculate her children. Several other books provide us with at least a hint that they were owned or read by other members of the household than the Baron himself. Material evidence that will be recorded in Alvin might give more insight in this matter. Moreover, we need to keep in mind that when Charles De Geer died in 1778, the library was continued by his son who went by the same name. He stopped collecting some of the subjects that his father had been interested in – sometimes when half of the installments had already been received – and focused more on the acquisition of French literature.

The library certainly reflects the family and the estate. A completely different way of looking at the collection is to focus on the acquisition of the books. It has been pointed out before that De Geer had a business relation with the booksellers Samuel and Johannes Luchtmans in Leiden. There is evidence in the account books, invoices and handwritten catalogues that they delivered not only books from the Dutch market to Sweden, but actively sought after books in France and England that might be of interest to De Geer. It is, however, obvious that not all books at Leufsta came from Luchtmans. De Geer certainly bought copies in Stockholm, possibly at the shops of Gottfried Kiesewetter and Lars Salvius. Furthermore he acquired books at auctions, most notably at the auction of Olof Rudbeck the Younger.

Histoire des Yncas.
Histoire des Yncas. One of the copies acquired by Charles De Geer at the Rudbeck auction.

These angles are just a modest attempt to understand Leufsta library. Naturally, the project is not about actively engaging in research, it is a library infrastructure project that aims to make to collection accessible for research. So far, more than two thousand titles from Leufsta have been catalogued for the Short-Title Catalogue, Netherlands (STCN). Over three hundred of them had not been recorded for the national bibliography of the Netherlands in any other library, underlining the international relevance of a former private library in remote parts of northern Uppland.

So where do we go from here? The project at Leufstabruk goes on for another two years. My Swedish colleagues are entering all books in the Swedish national union catalogue Libris. Moreover, the unique Dutch books will be digitized and made available through Delpher, whereas selected books with interesting provenances or bindings can be accessed via Alvin. These steps help to link the bibliographical with the material context. In the coming years, the project will be presented at conferences (for example at the 2nd MEDIATE conference: Private libraries and private library inventories, 1665 – 1830). This will enhance further research into the collection, and hopefully, inspire people to come and visit this unique environment in Northern Uppland.

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