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A Surprising Discovery at the Henry Janssen Library

by Bradley K. Smith, BHC Archivist and Assistant Director

A Surprising Discovery at the Henry Janssen Library

Reading, Pennsylvania was once an important center of German-language printing, and Gottlob Jungmann (c. 1757-1833) was one of the city’s renowned printers.

Jungmann printed Reading’s first German language newspaper, the Neu Unpartheyishe Reading Zeitung, beginning in 1789 (nearly a decade before the launch of the better known Readinger Adler).  He also printed baptismal certificates, almanacs, pamphlets, tracts and books. His landmark accomplishment, however, came in 1805, when he produced the first German-language Bible printed in North America outside of Philadelphia.

Copies of the Jungmann Bible survive, but are extremely rare.  For this reason, the Berks History Center aggressively pursued and purchased a copy that appeared on the internet auction site, Ebay, in early 2016. We considered this a fantastic acquisition and well worth the purchase cost due to the Bible’s rarity and its importance to Berks County history.

Last week, Henry Janssen Library volunteer, Fred Paul, made a suprising discovery deep within the library basement’s recesses: a second Jungmann Bible! With his curiosity piqued, he dug deeper and located a third copy, and then a fourth copy, and then a fifth copy. When his searching concluded, he had uncovered ten additional copies of the Jungmann Bible!

Fred’s discoveries highlight an important reality of the Henry Janssen Library: we are the stewards of an incredible archive teeming with treasures, but we only possess a rudimentary understanding of our collections’ full size and scope. Correcting this knowledge gap is a somewhat daunting work in progress, but it is an exciting time in the Henry Janssen Library. We are eager to make additional discoveries, and we are continually building finding aids which make our collections more accessible to the public.