Another Unexpected Encounter

My wife loves going to Brocante shops – which is French for 2nd hand stores, and I love to go with her, not so much because I would be overly interested in buying used stuff, but because I love watching her when she sorts out the jewels from the junk, and I celebrate with her when she finds an especially rare specimen. So this Saturday, we went to the “Brockenhaus” of the Salvation Army in Schaffhausen, and I noted they had a special sale on vintage books.


Disclaimer:  What I just said about not being interested in used stuff does not apply to books, so I started browsing through tons of cardboard banana cases until I ran into a massive book dimensioned 37 x 28 cm and 11.5 cm thick. I still was not impressed, expecting 30 bound years of some old fellow’s engineering journals, when I noticed that the title page had been torn from the book. I started looking around and found it in another box, and this is how it reads:

The title page of the bible, reading: “Biblia, Das ist: Die ganze Heilige Schrift: Darinn begriffen alle Bücher des Alten und Neuen Testaments: Aus den Grund-Sprachen treulich und wol verteutschet: aufs Neue und mit Fleiss widerum übersehen.”

I am used to reading Fraktura, the old German print fonts, but I had trouble getting accustomed to the kind of German the authors used. It sounded foreign and old. I browsed to the bottom of the page and started to decipher the print date: MDCLXVII.

Turned out I held in my hands a not too well conserved, but nevertheless rare print of the Bodmer Bible – printed in 1667 in Zürich by the brothers Johann Jacob and Heinrich Bodmer.

Johann Balthasar Bollinger: Zurich cathedral (Grossmünster) and Water Church around 1770. (Note the unfinished towers of the cathedral).

I do not know who those two brothers were, but I do know who they were not.

  • Johann Jacob is not Johann Jacob Bodmer (1698-1783) who would rise to fame in German literature in his theoretical works on poetry.
  • Heinrich is not Hans Heinrich Bodmer (1669-1743) who fought victoriously as General in the 2nd Villmergen war, but after having experienced incompetence and corruption got disgusted from politics and the “encrusted” protestant church. He turned to Pietism and intended to reform the protestant church back to its original values. His family’s print shop served him as vehicle to disseminate his ideas amongst the (literate) masses., but the ruling class in Zurich did not appreciate his initiative, removed him in 1717 from his position as  master of the influential carpenter’s guild and banned him from Zurich in 1721.

It could however be that Heinrich is Hans Heinrich’s father – who is reported to have run a print shop. If that was true, Heinrich would have set in motion a movement to restore faith in what he printed in 1667 by fathering a son two years later.

Map of the republic of Zurich, J.G. Seiler, 1698. The map is depicted in form of a lion, the heraldic animal wearing the coat of arms of the city state, his mouth opening around the lake of Zurich.


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