Collectors and Donors of Frankfurt
A Library Filled with Remarkable Things
Johann Martin Waldschmidt's Museum in the Stadtbibliothek
In the seventeenth century the "Frankfurt Stadtbibliothek", whose roots can be traced back to the Middle Ages, became the first museum-like, publicly accessible collection in Frankfurt. Its Librarian at the time, Johann Martin Waldschmidt, was able to list in the catalogues not only books but also paintings, coins, objects of antiquity, natural objects, instruments and sculptures.
But how did such a remarkable, wide-ranging collection come into being?
The old Ratsbibliothek (city council library) and the library of the Discalced Friars (Franciscans) form the core of the Stadtbibliothek. But from the sixteenth century onwards the library contained other things besides books. Gradually its holdings came to include rare, valuable and curious objects.
The year 1691 saw the appointment of its first full-time librarian, the jurist Johann Martin Waldschmidt (1650-1706). He was also well versed in theology, history and natural science. In his oath of office he had to swear to ensure that "as well as books, other rare objects and curiosities" would be "added to the library".
The Stadtbibliothek collection was diverse from the outset. It included astronomical and scientific instruments, archaeological finds and objects dug up in the area around Frankfurt, minerals and fossils, objects crafted in ivory, gold and silver, a portrait gallery of eminent scholars, and a collection of coins. Gazing down upon all this were portraits of Roman emperors, whose lives and reigns were intended to serve as an example to the living. Outstanding among the items in the collection were Johannes Schöner's terrestrial globe of 1515 and the Langgren brothers' celestial globe of 1594.
Waldschmidt was himself an enthusiastic collector: he owned a cabinet of natural objects consisting of shells and minerals, as well as a coin collection. It was thanks to him that the Stadtbibliothek became Frankfurt's first public museum collection. Twice a week, at set times, visitors to the library were given the opportunity to read the books and look at the objects.