The brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm are known for their fairy tales, which have entered the literary canon. However, they spent almost their entire lives developing Germanic philology. New discoveries of previously lost books from their private library may help in investigating their work.

Twenty-seven books, believed to have been lost after World War II, have been found in the University Library of Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, according to a press release from the university. The search was led by Professor Eliza Pieciul-Karmińska from the Faculty of Modern Languages at Adam Mickiewicz University (UAM), and Renata Wilgosiewicz-Skutecka from the University Library.

The volumes found at the University Library in Poznań from the private collection of books of the Brothers Grimm, which were considered lost since the end of World War II, could significantly contribute to the development of contemporary studies on the Grimms and also raise hopes that the collection at the University Library might contain other objects from the Grimms’ private library, the researchers wrote in an article published in the university journal Biblioteka.

Jacob Grimm's studio at Linkstrasse 7 in Berlin, watercolor by Moritz Hoffmann
Jacob Grimm’s studio at Linkstrasse 7 in Berlin, watercolor by Moritz Hoffmann. Credit: Germanisches Nationalmuseum / Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek

They noted that in 2002, in the Catalogue of Incunabula of the University Library in Poznań, Professor Wiesław Wydra included information about six volumes (eight incunabula and one 16th-century engraving) from the private library of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.

In February 2023, Professors Eliza Pieciul-Karmińska and Renata Wilgosiewicz-Skutecka decided to start a search to see if other books from the Grimm collection, listed as lost in the German catalog by Ludwig Denecke, could be in the university library’s archives. The search continued until June 2023, and the collection of findings grew by twenty-seven items.

In their article, the researchers mentioned that although the Grimm brothers had legal backgrounds, they dedicated themselves to the study of the history of language and are today considered pioneers of Germanic philology. They devoted nearly all their work to this, among other things, collecting ancient engravings, manuscripts, books on various subjects, and in several languages. They were less interested in white crows than in a broad selection of rare editions on the history, literature, and culture of what are known as Indo-European peoples, they stated.

Portrait of the Brothers Grimm, by Elisabeth Baumann (1855)
Portrait of the Brothers Grimm, by Elisabeth Baumann (1855). Credit: Public domain / Wikimedia Commons

The Grimm brothers not only collected books, but they also worked with them. The Grimms treated their library primarily as a work tool, leaving traces of their careful reading in the books – even in the oldest and rarest ones: underlining, annotations, and marks, the researchers wrote.

Many of the books found in Poznań contain annotations made by Jacob and Wilhelm themselves. Characters or places of interest to the researchers are underlined, sometimes a longer section of text is highlighted. On the back cover, Jacob often created an index of the underlined passages, for example, by noting down proper names and the pages where they appeared, the researchers confirmed.

As the researchers indicated, these notes are valuable for studying the Grimms’ legacy, as they can offer insights into their work methods and choice of motifs (for example, in fairy tales). To learn more, they suggested that a joint German-Polish investigation into the description and compilation of these notes would be necessary.

Back cover of
Back cover of “La Conqueste du Grand Charlemaigne” with notes by Jacob Grimm. Credit: Poznan University Library

The private library collection that Wilhelm and Jacob amassed over 60 years of creative work included more than 8,000 volumes. The Brothers Grimm book collection is an independent subject of study in Germany and is displayed in the Berlin library in a way that closely resembles the book collection Jacob and Wilhelm used during their lifetime. The catalog of works was compiled by Ludwig Denecke.

According to the article, it is believed that the books arrived at the University Library in Poznań during the post-war period due to the relocation of library collections during and after the war. However, it has also been established that there was a second way in which some volumes were transferred from Berlin (including the Brothers Grimm collection) to Poznań. Two books were transferred between 1898 and 1899 to the Kaiser-Wilhelm Library in Poznań, then under construction, as duplicates from the Royal University Library in Berlin.

Later, in 1919, the newly established University of Poznań took over these materials, which became the basis of the book collection at the University Library in Poznań.


Nauka w Polsce | Eliza Pieciul-Karmińska, Renata Wilgosiewicz-Skutecka, Prywatna biblioteka braci Grimm i odnaleziony fragment księgozbioru w Bibliotece Uniwersyteckiej w Poznaniu. Biblioteka Nr 27 (36) (2023),

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