“Das Große Stammbuch" of Philipp Hainhofer or How to collect "Friends"?

In today's understanding, a family register (in German: Stammbuch) is above all the proof of one's own origin. In the Early Modern Age, however, this concept of documenting genealogical ancestry was also present on an intellectual and emotional level; people collected written testimonies and sometimes also pictorial records of people to whom they felt connected (or even of whom they had only met once) in a book. This type of book is also known as a Stammbuch – or Album Amicorum, which, translated quite freely from Latin, means "book of friendship" and which in a modern understanding perhaps better characterizes the contents of these books. The term comes from albus (white) and indicates that each of these books initially consisted of empty, white pages that were to be filled.

From the 1530' onwards, students at Wittenberg University used such books to reassure themselves of their relationship with one another through the exchange of signatures, dedications and mottoes. The entries of famous reformers, renowned scholars and other members of the elite served as proof of social and scientific rank; places and dates documented the study visits and thus the cosmopolitan spirit of the owner of the book. In the following decades, the use of these books spread to other social classes and was practiced especially in academic circles up until the early 19th century. The German Poesiealbum of the 20th century and friendship books for kindergarten and school carry on the custom and continue it through to digital social media.

“Das Große Stammbuch” of Philipp Hainhofer, HAB: Cod. Guelf. 355 Noviss. 8°

The Herzog August Bibliothek has now acquired “Das Große Stammbuch” of the Augsburg art dealer and political agent Philipp Hainhofer (1578-1647), an outstanding document on the Stammbuch culture of the early modern period. The book, bound in purple velvet and measuring approximately 21 x 18 cm, contains 227 counted pages on parchment and paper with entries from the years 1596 to 1633.

"Das Große Stammbuch“ of Philipp Hainhofer, HAB: Cod. Guelf. 355
Noviss. 8°, p. 17: entry by the Holy Roman Emperors Rudolf II.

However, it is much more than just a document of academic friendship culture, for in addition to entries from Hainhofer’s student days, there are numerous inscriptions by some of the most important representatives of the European high nobility, including the Holy Roman Emperors Rudolf II and Matthias, the Danish King Christian IV or the "Winter King" Elector Frederick V of the Palatinate and his wife Elizabeth Stuart. Hainhofer did not always have a personal relationship with the high-ranking persons represented in his book; often other noble individuals arranged the contact for him. However, the more high-ranking and famous characters were represented, the more such an Album Amicorum heightened the status of its owner: the number and rank of the socially and politically influential "friends" who had made their mark in the book enabled Hainhofer, who was also active in diplomatic missions, to gain access to further social circles that would otherwise probably have remained out of his reach.

Those who had their Stammbuch equipped with the entries of princes and princesses could hope for particularly high-quality pictorial contributions. Hainhofer by no means left this to chance, but rather, on behalf of his high-ranking "friends", personally managed the artistic design, which he often had made by well-known Augsburg artists.

The high nobility of Europe was thus to be represented in the book by the "nobility of painting". According to the principle of reciprocity described above, the status of the paintings increased with the rank of the personalities whose signatures accompanied them. Hainhofer contributed to this by having individual "artistic pages", in addition to the typical coats of arms or personifications of the genre. These pages went far beyond the conventional picture motifs in format, execution and topic. “Das Große Stammbuch” was thus, unlike many representatives of its genre, also a collection album for art.

„Das Große Stammbuch“ of Philipp Hainhofer, HAB: Cod. Guelf. 355
Noviss. 8°, p. 4: Inscription: „Ad librum“

Hainhofer owned two more, similarly illustrated Stammbücher, which are today kept in Wolfenbüttel and Augsburg. The impetus for the increase of the number of books was probably brought about in 1611 by Duke Wilhelm V of Bavaria. On the occasion of his own entry in the book, he declared that Hainhofer could more easily win princely "friends" if he collected them separately in a special book. Since then, Hainhofer maintained separate books, differentiated by the social status of the persons represented within. Thanks to a special binding, he was able to exchange the standardized pages and thus adapt the album to particular occasions, such as a diplomatic mission to the imperial court.

Therefore, numerous pages, especially those of Catholic contributors, are missing in the current arrangement of the Stammbuch, including that of the aforementioned Bavarian Duke. In contrast, the page of the name giver of the Wolfenbüttel library, August the Younger of Braunschweig-Lüneburg, is still included. The Duke of Wolfenbüttel had been in correspondence with Hainhofer for many years, and after his death in 1647, he sought to acquire Hainhofer's Stammbücher, but did not succeed in purchasing "Das Große Stammbuch" from Hainhofer's son and heir. After that, the way of the book cannot be traced back; the Hainhofer research, which began in the 19th century, therefore considered it lost. The loss of the historically and art-historically equally remarkable piece fuelled its fame and at the same time promoted the attempts to reconstruct its content and structure on the basis of information provided by Hainhofer. Unnoticed by research, the botanically interested bibliophile Cornelius Hauck in Cincinnati acquired the allegedly lost Album Amicorum as early as 1946. It was not until 2006 at an auction in New York that it was brought back into the light of the scientific public when it was acquired for a private collection in England. Finally, in 2020, “Das Große Stammbuch” was successfully purchased for the Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel.





About the author

Dr. Michael Wenzel is a research associate in the department "Manuscripts and Special Collections". His work focuses on the "Annotated Digital Edition of Philipp Hainhofer's Travel and Collection Descriptions".


Press Release

Please find our press release about the acquisition of Hainhofer's Album Amicorum here.