Friday, May 8th, 2015...9:30 am

A surprising Scandinavian lithograph

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Carl Rothlieb. Beskrifning öfver Skokloster (Stockholm, 1819). Harvard Library’s holdings in Scandinavian imprints are extensive. Quite aware of this, Wake Forest University recently gifted to Harvard a small but rich collection of Scandinavian books, including autographed copies of Karen Blixen first editions, unique 18th century imprints, and unusual 19th century military manuals.

One volume seems diminutive on the surface. Carl Rothlieb’s Beskrifning öfver Skokloster (Description of Skokloster) (Stockholm: Deleen, 1819) is 20 centimeters tall, contains 102 pages, and is modestly bound in contemporary brown paste-paper covered boards. However, the first opening is immediately intriguing and turns out to be quite remarkable. Two lithographs face one another – one of the church in Skokloster and the other a landscape entitled “Utsigt af Sko Klosters Slott och Kyrka” The latter is signed “C. Müller.”

Alois Senefelder invented lithography in Germany in 1796. He was assisted in his experiments by a small band of craftsmen, one of whom was Carl Müller. The early European expansion of this clearly useful art was bumpy due to contentious patent and licensing battles and the Napoleonic Wars – but it was also quick. Swedish inventors tried to take advantage of it almost as soon as it appeared, but it was not until the 1817 arrival of Müller and a colleague, Ludwig Fehr, in Stockholm that lithography took root in Scandinavia. The two established their press in April 1818 and were soon busy producing music, landscapes, and fashion prints for high-brow and popular consumption.

Konst och Nyhets Magasin för Medborgare af alla Klasser 1819. Stockholm, 1819

Fehr left after only a year (and later opened the first Norwegian lithographic house), but Muller remained, becoming Stockholm’s major source for lithographs in the decades to follow. He expanded his business to include newspaper supplements, maps, and art lithography. Also – like Senefelder – Müller was a tinkerer – always improving the quality of his products. One development he explored early on was zinc lithography (i.e. replacing the limestone slabs with zinc plates). A landscape in one 1830 issue of the Magasin för Konst bears the caption “Ett landskap, aftryck ifrån Zinkplåt” – probably the first zinc lithograph published in Sweden.

Magasin för konst. Stockholm, May 1830.

And then Müller disappears. On 23 October, 1830, he goes to Motala to pick up a new press for printing his zinc plates. He was due back in Stockholm within a week or two – but he never returned and is never heard of again. Only small tracks remain of his plentiful work – and most of that is in Scandinavia. Thanks to this kind donation, Harvard is now the fortunate resting place for this undocumented lithographic incunable.

[Thanks to Karen Nipps, Head of the Rare Book Team, for contributing this post.]

1 Comment

  • Incunable, funny expression for a nineteenth century print, but, as I just learned, Senefelder’s lithography was just in its early stages then. I once did an interesting study of early organized labor movements and it turns out, a lot of the “instigators” and proselytizers actually were lithographers and typesetters. After I while I developed the theory that this probably has to do with the fact that they were the only “learned” people among the proletariat. Due to their work they were forced to read day in, day out for more than ten hours – and thus probably more than students in university, esp. those from the nobility. So these mass replication techniques created a new “proletarian nobility” in their wake.