By David Rosenstein | Investigation
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832) was a world-renowned writer and philosopher, covering poetry, plays, novels, and scientific treatises. Widely considered the greatest German writer of all time, his works have had a profound impact on Western literary and philosophical thought. Goethe’s magnum opus, “Faust,” is a tragic play in two parts, both of which are written in rhymed verse. Part One was first published in 1808, with revisions in 1828-29, and posthumously in 1831. “Faust” tells the story of a scholar named Faust who makes a deal with the devil, Mephistopheles, in exchange for unlimited knowledge and pleasure. The play follows Faust’s tragic love affair with a young woman named Gretchen and explores themes of ambition, redemption, and the human condition. It is widely considered one of the greatest works of German literature.
Now imagine owning an antique limited-edition royal “Faust” that is the size of a small window and weighs 7kg (15lb). Covered in leather and silver, this luxurious book is published and decorated by the finest bookmakers and artists of its time, exclusively for Queen Victoria. The Queen presents this book as a gift to her favorite Prime Minister, who treasures it so much that the book never leaves his desk. Who wouldn’t want such a copy for their personal library?!
This extraordinary book actually exists and to this day, it remains on Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli’s work desk at the Hughenden mansion, which once served as his country residence in the 19th century. Hughenden Manor is now a popular tourist site that draws visitors from all over the world.
While it’s not possible to acquire the exact copy gifted by Queen Victoria to the Prime Minister, it is still possible to find an authentic antique version of this stunning tome for sale on and offline. A number of people have already done so. In fact, presented throughout this story are exclusive photos from one such collector who managed to acquire several of these rare publications and is looking for more. He is not alone, as prices on this historic book have begun to rise astronomically due to low supply and growing demand.
For a brief period from 1875 to 1877, a limited number of these luxurious books were published exclusively for the nobility and the affluent. They were made in German and English languages with an identical cover. However, over the course of nearly 150 years and two World Wars, all records of how many were printed have been lost or destroyed.
Join Our Investigation!
Our researchers have contacted national libraries, museums, and even remaining publishers, but to no avail. That’s why The World Art News is asking all our readers to search and share any additional information that you can find on this rare publication. You can send your findings to our email or share them in the comments section below. Full credit will be provided. Together we will solve all the fascinating mysteries of this historic book. Until then, here’s what we know:
1875 – The First Print
In 1875, Friedr. Bruckmann’s Verlag (München & Berlin) published the first German version of this luxury limited-edition book “Faust von Goethe, Erster Theil (Faust by Goethe, First Part).” The book’s front cover was made of leather and featured an embossed name “Faust” partially decorated with gilding, and six silver medals depicting portraits of the main characters, as well as decorative corner protectors. All edges were gold-plated. It was exceptionally large, measuring 52 x 39 cm (20.5 x 15.4 inches), and heavy, weighing 7 kg (15 lb). This rare publication was one of the first to include photographs, 14 in total, which was a rarity at the time. The book was crafted as a work of fine art and contained 143 pages with stunning illustrations by Auguste von Kreiling (1818 – 1876), a famous German artist who was the director of the Nuremberg Fine Arts and a member of Munich Academies. He passed away in 1876, just one year after the publication of his greatest artistic accomplishment. His illustrations were so well done that in 1893, the Goethe Society declared them to be the most accurate reflections of Goethe’s vision.
The Berlin State Library (Staatsbibliothek), which has a copy of this publication, informed us that this luxury edition appeared in only 8 deliveries. The 1st-4th delivery was in 1875 and the 5th-8th delivery took place in 1876-1877. It is unknown to them how many books were part of each delivery. Our investigative journalist found and contacted the successor company of Bruckmann’s Verlag, which still exists under the business name GeraNova Bruckmann Verlagshaus GmbH. Unfortunately, they too informed us that no records remained about this rare book.
What is known for certain is that due to the size, weight, complexity, exclusivity, and cost of producing a single copy, there were not many of these luxury books printed in the first place. A number of them went to national libraries, and later to museums, where a few of these books remain to this day. Some were sold to the wealthy and affluent, and it is precisely these copies, at least those that survived WWI and WWII, that occasionally come up for sale on the market.
Brief history of Bruckmann’s Verlag publishing house:
Friedrich Wilhelm Bruckmann (1814-1898) was a prominent German entrepreneur and factory owner who, in 1858, co-founded the “Verlag für Kunst und Wissenschaft” in Frankfurt with Emil Friedrich Eduard Suchsland, a trained bookseller. In 1861, he established the “Verlag von Friedrich Bruckmann” in Stuttgart, which he later moved to Munich. The company gained fame for producing high-quality books, magazines, prints, and photography, specializing in works on art, cultural history, and science. It quickly became one of the largest international art publishers with branches in major cities such as London, New York, and Paris. Between 1895 and 1913, the publishing house conducted photography campaigns of renowned art collections to expand its illustration stock, including the Alte Pinakothek in Munich and the National Gallery in London. Bruckmann’s Verlag also isn’t without a controversial past. Under the leadership of Friedrich Bruckmann’s sons, during the rise of National Socialism in Germany, the company formed an alliance with the Nazi government and became part of the propaganda apparatus. After the Second World War, the publishing house began to rebuild its reputation and focused on alpine and outdoor literature. In 2016, Munich’s Central Institute for Art History took over the large photo archive of Bruckmann’s Verlag to study their historical image content that represents over 100 years of publishing history.
1876 – The Royal Faust
As we told you in the beginning of our investigative report, in 1876 a Royal Edition of this already rare “Faust” was made exclusively for Queen Victoria. This was the first, believed to be unofficial, copy of this book in the English language, which created the template for the limited-edition English version that was released one year later by Friedrich Bruckmann (London). To confirm this, we contacted the United Kingdom’s National Trust which told us the following:
I can confirm that this is the copy that was given by Queen Victoria, as a Christmas present to Benjamin Disraeli in 1876. It retains her inscription on the second page. Our research has suggested that this binding is unique, and that this is the only copy like it in the world. We know that there is another text block which is the same, but that it is unbound, and is housed at the British Library. Benjamin was extremely excited by the gift, and writes about it in a letter to Lady Bradford, dated Christmas Day 1876. He notes:
“Nothing can be more admirable. But the binding of this volume exceeds in work and splendor all the treasures which Dr. Schliemann has disinterred at Mycenea.”
Presently, the aforementioned “Royal Faust” is preserved within the confines of Hughenden Manor, formerly Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli’s countryside abode during the 19th century. It rests upon his work desk, accessible for viewing by individuals visiting from all corners of the globe.
Brief history of Benjamin Disraeli
Benjamin Disraeli (1804 – 1881) was a prominent British statesman and politician, who held the position of Prime Minister twice during his lifetime. Disraeli is renowned for his instrumental role in the development of the modern Conservative Party, which he steered towards policies of broad outreach and one-nation conservatism. He was a vocal figure on the world stage, known for his political battles and British expansion. Of note, Disraeli was the only British prime minister to have Jewish origins. In addition to his political career, he was also a published novelist, writing works of fiction even while serving as Prime Minister.
Brief history of Hughenden
Hughenden is a historic estate with a rich and varied past that extends back almost a thousand years, well beyond the first records in the Domesday book. It is most famous for being the former country home of Victorian Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and for serving as a top-secret facility during World War II. The Hughenden Manor we know today was remodelled in 1862 for Benjamin Disraeli by architect Edward Buckton Lamb. During the Second World War, Hughenden was requisitioned by the Air Ministry and converted into a top-secret map-making base, codenamed ‘Hillside’.
1877 – The British Edition
In 1877, an official English version of the “Royal Faust” was published by Friedrich Bruckmann (London). This book had the same luxurious cover, the same number of illustrations and photographs, and was nearly identical to the 1875 German edition. The only real difference was that it had 140 pages, three fewer than the original German publication.
While the publisher and illustrator of this luxury book remained essentially the same, a renowned translator, Theodore Martin, was chosen for the project, possibly by the Queen herself. Sir Theodore Martin (1816 – 1909) was a Scottish poet, biographer, and translator. He is best known for his Life of the Prince Consort, which was entrusted to him by Queen Victoria and won him her lifelong friendship.
From our conversations with several antique book dealers and collectors, we learned that, in their opinion, aside from the “Royal Faust” that tops them all, this English edition is the rarest and most desired version of all “Faust” books, not just from this 1875-77 luxury line but from all “Fausts” ever published anywhere in the world. It is very difficult, but not impossible, to find, and people have.
This is the extent of information gathered by our investigative journalists on this rare publication. However, much about its history remains shrouded in mystery, waiting to be unraveled by enthusiasts of ancient artifacts and antique literature. The most significant question that begs an answer is the number of limited-edition copies produced and the quantity that have survived to this day.
Despite reaching out to various entities, including national museums, libraries, and publishers in Germany and Great Britain, none could provide a definitive answer. As such, we once again implore our inquisitive readers to join us in our quest for knowledge. Let us pool our collective resources and uncover the historical secrets concealed within this unparalleled literary gem.
The World Art News received the following information from our readers:
Monumental German Faust Editions in International Circulation and Multimedia Modernity
“Faust with plates and drawings by August von Kreling, director of the Nuremberg Royal Academy, exemplifies his multiple innovative talents in painting, sculpture, applied arts, building and furniture design. In 36 folios, it was launched by Friedrich Bruckmann in Munich and Berlin, and printed by Leipzig ace printers Giesecke & Devrient. Its intended 16 full-size compositions in one of the latest photographic techniques, the Woodbury type, were reduced to only 14 by Kreling’s death in 1876, and largely superseded by 80 figurative and ornamental in-text woodcuts. A forbidding volume (51 × 39.3 × 4.8 cm), weighing 8.05 kg, it is a citadel centrepiece clad in armour thanks to two bindings: dark leather over thick pasteboards decorated with a raised metal Gothic title and metal corners, or yellow (even brown) morocco supporting a raised gilded title, four ornate metal corners, bolts (one in the very middle of the back cover), and six front medallions of the main characters in parallel pairs (fig. 2). Giesen importantly points out that Kreling worked on the decorative program of the Maximilianeum, following his stepfather Kaulbach’s involvement in Munich’s Residenz. His Faust is an eminent construction in book form, celebrating alongside public iconographic representations, the growing new German identity.”Evanghelia Stea – Fellow at the Institut Universitaire de France and Professor of Comparative Literature and Print Culture at the Université de Versailles-Saint-Quentin, Paris, France
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Great article. I am fortunate to be the owner of an original and would be very interested in getting an evaluation.