Subsidised by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), the project entitled "Emperor Franz I of Austria and his Private Library, 1784-1835" (P22774) has set itself the task of using available sources material in order to analyse the cultural, social, and political history of this unique collection from its foundation until the year 1835. With the project running from August 2010, research is now nearly being brought to its conclusion. The following serves to give an overview of the goals, work process, and results entailed in that research.


Project Goals in Light of the 2010 Proposal:

  • Reconstruction of the Private Library of Franz I based on archival und library sources
  • Description and analysis of the library as a private collection as well as a knowledge space and “memory institution” for the emperor and his imperial status
  • Embedding the history of the library in the political, social, intellectual and cultural contexts and discourses at the end of the 18th century until 1835


Current Results

Reconstructing the Private Library of Emperor Franz I


For the reconstruction of the library’s history the main sources in the State archives in Vienna and Florence, as well as the archives of the private library (for the years 1809-1835) have been examined in detail, whereas the latter has been described on the item level in the library system ALEPH (~2,000 files).

Acquisition policy and collection development from its beginnings to 1806

One of the main aims of research was to reconstruct the history of book acquisitions made by Franz in his time as Archduke. The State archives make clear record of bills from both booksellers and bookbinders, spanning not only the period in which Franz was still Archduke (1784-1792) but also his reign as Emperor. As proof of payments by the imperial privy purse, these bills shed much light on Franz' activity as a collector and represent important sources for the qualitative and quantitative analysis of the collection. This analysis has made it possible to distinguish between several distinct periods in the history of the collection. The first period entails the education of the Archduke (1784-1788) and includes works which, as surviving documents from the State archives demonstrate, were part of the young Archduke's lesson plans. Incidentally, records also show that several bills were issued to his instructors. Another distinct segment of the library's history consists in the independent initiatives of the young Archduke, spanning the period from 1788 to 1791, in which the future Emperor shows a particular predilection for botany, a subject for which he maintained interest for the remainder of his life. It is also at this time that Franz, as the collector, begins to acquire serial works, a development which continues and grows in intensity as Franz goes on to acquire ever more ornately illustrated works for his collection. This phase of the library's history gives particular testimony to the future Emperor's personal interests as the basis for acquisition, while his financial situation is reflected in the sumptuousness of the volumes he purchases (gold leafing, vellum, colourful illustration, etc.).

On an interesting note, the period of Franz' education displays a series of acquisitions which, contrary to the spirit of those times, interested more in rare and antique books, was more functional in nature and decidedly enlightened in content. The collection of rare and antique books will only begin to assume its place as a part of the private Imperial collection at a later date. A comparison with the policies of the Viennese Court Library (Hofbibliothek) is revealing. The Court Library, which had been formed into a resplendent Baroque library in the 1720s, differed greatly from Franz' private collection not only in size, but also in its structure and organisation. It was run by state officials and open to the academic interest of the public. The private library, on the other hand, was in the hands of Franz, assisted by his servants until 1806 and was not made accessible to the public.

The bills show that during the early period most books were acquired on the Vienna market. They also testify to an enlargement of this radius, particularly following the year 1792, with the Emperor ordering large-scale purchases in cities such as Leipzig.

A comparison with the development of the private library of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany has only proved fruitful in the analysis of Franz' collection. The bills from large-scale purchases, to be found in the State archives in Florence, are of particular interest in this regard, as they reveal how Franz' father, the Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo of Tuscany, was particularly active in securing acquisitions through his embassy in Paris. By 1771, forty five percent of the Grand Duke's library consisted of works printed in Paris[1]. By contrast, his son Franz only acquired some sixteen percent of his collection printed in that city.


From 1806 to 1835

During the period from 1806 to the death of Emperor Franz in 1835, the private library becomes increasingly an institution in its own right. This is illustrated not least by the appointment of Peter Thomas Young as the collection's first librarian. This period is characterised not only by the usual acquisitions of current works from notable Viennese booksellers (generally Schaumburg, Schalbacher, and Artaria, but also Artaria & Fontaine in Mannheim), but most especially by the mass purchase of entire collections, mainly hailing from the bourgeois private libraries and acquired in auctions. These acquisitions consisted mainly of antique books which were purchased with the goal of expanding the inventory on subject areas already to be found in the Emperor's private library.

Some examples of entire collections added to the Imperial private library include: the collection inherited from his aunt Maria Elisabeth in 1809, consisting of 2,174 works of literature; the collection purchased from Peter Anton von Frank in 1819, containing 5,827 works on law and politics; the collection of Ferdinand von Ulm, containing 621 volumes of incunabula and acquired in 1824; as well as the renowned collection of physiognomy studies by Johann Caspar Lavater, added to the Emperor's library in 1828. It should be noted that the latter was not incorporated into the normal collections of the library, rather it stands alone as a separate entity within the private library to this day.

Although it has been possible to analyse and reconstruct the provenance of many separate collections and individual acquisitions on the basis of the available records, the history of collections won in auction is much more difficult to determine. The primary sources available to our research are auction catalogues with marked items, to be found in the holdings of the private library. Nonetheless, following these indications it was possible not only to identify which auctions were visited, but also to reconstruct with precision which works were acquired at them. These include the auctions of Franz von Prandau (1811), Johann Melchior von Birkenstocks (1812), Count Apponyi (1818), Prince Prosper von Sinzendorf (1823), King Maximilian I of Bavaria (1826) and Count Auersperg (1834). Our detailed study of the available records has also made it possible to divide the contents of the library collections into distinct academic fields and the Emperor Franz' personal areas of interest, and to demonstrate how these distinctions played an important role in determining what works were to be acquired. The analysis of works marked in auction catalogues but not found in the library may be a useful indication of what subjects were of general interest to Franz' contemporaries.


Reconstruction of the library holdings at three given dates

The thorough analysis of two library catalogues and archival files allowed us to reconstruct the book collections available at three dates. As indicated in our project proposal, we have identified the years 1811, 1827, and 1835. The completeness of source material in the State archives available for the early period has allowed us to identify the books acquired until 1791 (610 titles) by author, title, place and year of publication as well as costs of acquisition.

During the course of our research, a catalogue dating from 1807 which contains merely the number and the estimated value of all then existing titles (9,435) came to light, the period just after Peter Thomas Young's appointment as librarian. The catalogue bears important testimony to contemporary holdings and has led us to stress this date, rather than the year 1811 as indicated in the project application. The systematic catalogue completed in 1827 was evaluated statistically with regard to various aspects. According to the shelf list of the book holdings as of 1835 stating 25,344 titles mark the end of Emperor Franz' collecting activity.


Locations of the private library

The original location and appearance of the library have not been preserved, therefore it was necessary to collect and study old photographs, blueprints and historical descriptions. In this regard, the diversity of our team proved particularly fruitful, as one of our members (Rainer Valenta) had previously been involved in another FWF project (P18199) dealing with the architecture of the Imperial Palace (Hofburg) and was therefore familiar with the architectural context we were confronted with. Originally located within Franz' apartments in the Hofburg, the ever-growing library soon required its own housing. Based on recent archive findings, our research has shown that the first actual library premises were most likely constructed in 1795/1796, some ten years earlier than had previously believed. Necessary expansions of these locations in 1812 and 1834 have been documented based on the respective archival files and blueprints. Last not least the architectural shape and interior decoration of the Emperor’s private library was discussed in the light of contemporary library architecture in Vienna.


The Library as a knowledge space and memory institution

Systems of order and thought

Interesting insights in the organisation of knowledge were gained through the analysis of the considerable amount of handwritten catalogues. The sequence of the various activities of cataloguing, the reference works on which they were based and the conceptual changes have been clarified satisfyingly. In short the results are as follows:

In 1807 librarian Peter Thomas Young created a physical order within the holdings by subdividing them in terms of the major disciplines. It was also then when every book title received a unique reference number (“unveränderliche Bibliothekszahl”; confer the aforementioned list of estimated values). Subsequently Young was preparing an alphabetical catalogue and a shelflist (“Standortsrepertorium”) in which individual works were clearly identified by this very number. The principles of this method of cataloguing were taken from a concise guideline by the German librarian Albrecht Christoph Kayser published in 1790.

The major sources on which Young relied in his efforts in creating a scheme of classification for a general systematic catalogue could have been identified as well. The development of this classification from its first formulation in 1807 and a revision in 1811 to the definitive version in the systematic catalogue (1821-27) has been described and influences of important contemporary phenomena (such as the French Revolution or the philosophy of Kant) within the respective disciplines were documented.

Finally the detailed and rather progressive bibliographical entries in Young’s incunabula catalogues from 1810 and 1812 and their relations to Ludwig Hain’s “Repertorium bibliographicum” have been examined.


The Emperor and his Library

Careful study of the source materials supports the notion that Franz' private library was initially conceived for his private use, but that, over time, its gradual expansion and enrichment with rare and sumptuous volumes prompted the necessity of an official librarian, giving the library an increasingly representative function. At the same time, it should be noted that the Emperor continued, even after appointing his librarian, to make personally all decisions concerning acquisitions, gifts, remuneration, and library staff.

The archives of the private library have been the main source of our research in this regard, providing information not only on the "internal" history of the library, but above all on the Emperor's communication with his advisers and his promotion of specific Austrian authors, publishers, engravers and painters.


The Private Library as Compared to Other Collections

An excursion to the Princely Library of the Dukes of Ratibor and Corvey in Höxter/Corvey (Germany) made possible a direct comparison with the results of our research. Thanks to our exchanges with the library director and researcher from the University of Paderborn, Günter Tiggesbäumker, we were able to answer questions concerning that library's inventory, size, thematic focus, and cataloguing approaches, among other things. This information allowed us to identify and elaborate on important common features, as well as differences to the private library of Emperor Franz I. Some commonalities include the representative character of the collections, the growth and development of the library over the same general historic period, similar size, their financing out of the privy purses of both rulers. The Corvey collection also differs, however, in a number of ways. Its emphasis on 18th and early 19th century novels in German, English, and French, all more or less equal in numbers and catalogued separately according to language, has no parallel in the Emperor’s library. A further difference may be noted in the manner in which the two libraries were managed. While Emperor Franz employed a librarian in 1806, the Corvey library was run personally by its founder until his death in 1834. It was not until 1860 when the poet Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben became librarian that the latter was meaningfully revived and expanded in a broader spectrum of subject matter.


At the recommendation of a project reviewer, we also took into consideration the King's Library of George III. It was deemed a further point of suitable comparison due to the period of its foundation, its size and the status of its initiator. The most profound and even surprising difference between the two libraries is that by 1823 the King's Library, according to the will of its heir, was donated to the public and eventually incorporated into the British Museum. No such change took place in Vienna before the fall of the monarchy and the incorporation of the Imperial collection into the Austrian National Library (1921).


History of Collections within a political, social, intellectual and cultural context


Two greater historical events were considered of particular importance for understanding the development of the library and its socio-political context: the Napoleonic Wars and the Vienna Congress.

The careful study of bills and official documents from the period between 1813 and 1816 reveal the acquisition of a large number of German and French political pamphlets and French caricatures (mostly anti-Napoleon).

The archives of the private library have brought to light several letters indicating that Emperor Franz used maps from his private library both for military and strategic purposes during the German Campaign and for negotiating the restructuring of Europe after the war. Incidentally, this is one of the best documented examples of the use of material from the Emperor's private library for concrete political events.

A statistical analysis of the systematic catalogue, and in particular of the categories "politics" and "history of recent politics" has also revealed a keen interest in events and topics such as the French Revolution, constitutional government, political equilibrium, coinciding with contemporary preoccupations as found in the daily literature of the period.

Images showing a correlation to contemporary historical events were identified in the graphic arts collections and, using contemporary written sources as an aid, were analysed with reference to their iconographic and medial functionality. Some examples include images of: the ceremonies surrounding the Vienna Congress, Emperor Franz' march into Vienna on 16 June 1814, portrayals of various battles (1796-1799), portrayals of the Tyrolean insurrections of 1809 and 1813 against the French and Bavarians, as well as patriotic prints and drawings recollecting the Napoleonic wars 1813/1814.


Dissemination Strategies


The multi-faceted results of our three years of research have been made available to the academic community on our project homepage ( Due to our collaboration with two further FWF projects focussing on the Vienna Congress, information about our project can also be found at The extensive registers on library archive material we compiled during the course of our project are available to the public online at:

The material covers the period up to 1835 and features nearly 2,000 files.

The initial results of our research have been published in two papers[2]. The project group "Wiener Kongress" also gave us the opportunity to present our findings at their workshop on the political culture and international relations of the Vienna Congress (24 to 25 March 2011).

Our project team was also able to secure the participation of the following international partners in the 2012 conference on royal libraries of the late Enlightment period in Vienna:


  • Kristian Jensen (British Library London): The King’s Library
  • Petr Mašek (Národní Muzeum, Praha): Fürstliche Schlossbibliotheken in Tschechien
  • Jürgen Wolf (Universität Marburg/Fürstenbibliothek Arolsen, co-operation partner): Die Fürstenbibliothek Arolsen
  • Renato Pasta (Università degli Studi di Firenze, co-operation partner): The private library of the granducal pair, Pietro Leopoldo and Maria Luisa of Bourbon
  • Ivan Boserup (Royal Danish Library): Digesting a Court Library. On the Inclusion of the Ducal Library of Schloss Gottorf (near Schleswig) within the Collections of the Royal Library of Copenhagen, and on Recent Endeavours to Reconstruct its Past Splendor


This conference gave us also the opportunity to present our so far achieved results to the scientific community:

  • Nina Knieling: Zur Geschichte der Privatbibliothek Kaiser Franz’ II./I. bis 1806
  • Thomas Huber: Verleger-Kustoden-Autoren, die Erwerbstrategien der Privatbibliothek Franz’ II./I.
  • Rainer Valenta Zur politischenKontextualiserung des Sammlungsgutes an den Beispielen Französische Revolution/ Befreiungskriege / Wiener Kongress


Our close collaboration with colleagues on subject of the Vienna Congress will allow our project leader Hans Petschar and team member Rainer Valenta to lend their expertise to the activities planned for the upcoming anniversary of the Vienna Congress in 2014-15.

Another exciting aspect of work was the offer to take part in the annual exhibition of the Austrian National Library in 2011. On that occasion, the project team selected various items from the private library for the exhibition on the regions and peoples of the Habsburg Monarchy. Not least, this was a rare opportunity for us to suggest items, which had only recently been rediscovered in the private library due to our project efforts. The exhibition managed to unite a broad range of monarchy-related topics, from the first representations and descriptions of the Austrian Empire dating back to the early 19th century, to the popular encyclopaedia on Austria-Hungary commissioned by Crown Prince Rudolph. The exhibition was a great occasion by which to present an interested public with a visual overview of the complexities of the Habsburg monarchy throughout its development in the 19th century.

Finally our project results were also presented in Italy by team member Nina Knieling. Thanks to an invitation by our co-operation partner Renato Pasta of the University of Florence, she had the opportunity to present her expertise on the link between Emperor Franz' private library in Vienna and his father Pietro Leopoldo's grand-ducal collection in the Palazzo Pitti, promoting the exchange between the two academic communities.


[1] Renato Pasta published a library catalogue based on the place of publication of each work in 1771. Pasta, Renato: La biblioteca aulica e le letture dei principi lorensesi, in: Bertelli, Sergio / Pasta, Renato (Ed.): Vivere a Pitti, Firenze 2003, 387.

[2] Knieling, Nina / Huber, Thomas / Valenta, Rainer; Die Privatbibliothek Kaiser Franz’ I. von Österreich. Ein Werkstattbericht. In: Mitteilungen der Gesellschaft für Buchforschung in Österreich (2011) 71-83. – Thomas Huber-Frischeis / Nina Knieling / Rainer Valenta; Die Geschichte der Privatbibliothek Kaiser Franz‘ I 1784-1835. Ein Forschungsbericht, In: Bibliothek. Forschung und Praxix 38 (2014).