Processing the “Adalbert Riedl collection of prayer and song leaflets” was quite enjoyable for several reasons having to do with its material qualities, and it was also relatively easy, because it had been pre-arranged and had a typed paper inventory. It allowed me to learn about a region of world I didn’t know too much about (Burgenland in Eastern Austria), made me brush off my high school and college German, and provided seemingly endless visual stimulation, what with so many great religious and secular illustrations included on most of the pamphlets. It also was fascinating from the standpoint of printing and illustration history, as it covered a wide period of time, from at least 1746 to 1929 and perhaps later.
The short story about Adalbert Riedl is that he was an Austrian teacher, politician, museum director, collector, and folklorist (for more information, please see the Biographical note in the online finding aid). After going into education and then dabbling in party politics (a stint in Dachau concentration camp seems to have taken care of that ambition), Riedl settled down to work at and eventually run the Burgenland State Museum (Landesmuseum Burgenland) in Eisenstadt, Austria. There he championed the folklore of his native region and wrote several books on the subject. While the content of the pamphlet collection is not only from this region, it is representative of Riedl’s interest in collecting the cultural production of a given area.
Regarding the collection itself, it came to Penn in 1969. According to a note included in the collection’s accession file, it was inspected by (now Emeritus) Professor Don Yoder, and subsequently purchased by the Penn Libraries. It received some processing attention at the time, at least enough to create a 54-page typed paper inventory, and housing for each title in its own glassine envelope.
These envelopes were found to be acidic and also provided a challenge for safe removal by researchers. I chose to place (usually one, but sometimes multiple copies of) each title in its own custom cut folder. Because the pamphlets had been numbered on the typed inventory, it was easiest to keep them in this order, even though it might not be the most logical order if it were done fresh today. I was able to scan and OCR the original inventory, though it required considerable cleanup and refreshing to get it in shape for the EAD finding aid.
The bulk of the collection was printed in the 19th century. There are also pieces from the 18th century and some from the early-to-mid 20th century. This is apparent in their paper quality, printing and illustration processes, and even their typography.
The pieces are primarily small format printed works, ranging from a single sheet to multiple pages, and many include printed or engraved illustrations. Most are on (Catholic) religious themes but a handful are secular in nature.
Some may be designated as prayers, while others are songs (though only a couple contain any notated music). And then there are stories as well as materials categorized as “miscellaneous.”
The items are primarily in the German language, many printed in Fraktur, but a small number are in Hungarian, as well as Croatian, Czech, Slovakian, and Slovenian.
Additionally, there is a collection of 28 printed leaflets bound into a single volume (Sammelband) and a small number of manuscripts in German Kurrentschrift. Deciphering this script was a first for me.
Another interesting aspect of the leaflets is the location of their production, at least of those that can be traced based on given printing or publishing information. The known places of publication include cities throughout the former Austrian-Hungarian Empire and German lands, including today’s Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Northern Italy, the Netherlands, and Slovakia. Here is a quick-and-dirty Google map I made to get a better sense of what I was dealing with.
Finally, there were some conservation issues to address, mostly in the form of adhesive tape used to “repair” the items. Sometimes it was quite dried up, and was easily removed using a microspatula. Adhesive which could not be easily removed was left in tact. If it was beginning to stick to itself or other parts of the pamphlet I used a mylar enclosure to allow access without further damaging the piece. If deemed worthy in the future, perhaps the collection will see some more involved treatment.
However, one of my favorite old-timey repair jobs didn’t involve tape at all. This “Franken-leaflet” was lovingly if haphazardly sewn back together at some point in its life, perhaps before the advent of adhesive tape. Ironically, it is this “primitive” repair technique which would be the easiest to undo with the least amount of damage to the item.