The library

The Library of the Museum is a research library that functions primarily as a centre for original editions, illustrated books, books dedicated or annotated by the authors, and writers’ full personal libraries. It is commonly known that the Hungarian scientific collections (e.g. the National Museum) and the Petőfi House, a memorial house dedicated to the poet and considered to be the predecessor of our Museum, were established through public offers and major book collections.

 The incoming bequests – regardless of their former owners – arrive at a common (the only) library repository in the institutions, into a newly created system of collections. The Library of our Museum differs essentially in the way it manages public collections, in that during the processing of books a proprietary catalogue is compiled of the pieces in the writers’ libraries that once belonged together. Taking the half-century existence of the Museum into account, the Library has an unparalleled collection of approximately two hundred personal libraries (libraries within the library).

The books are not just physically existent stock, but a source of knowledge for the entire life work, the study of which belongs to the basic steps of research prior to any critical text edition. The possession of a book is a source of information on its own, yet the more signs of use a book bears and the more markedly it shows its owner’s characteristics, especially handwriting, the more valuable it becomes. A book might conceal all kinds of texts or information, and even pressed objects. It is also very likely that the collection of a writer who loves books will reflect the chronological layering in the biography through the items read and the books received or given away. The quite different habits – alternating, periodical or coexistent – in the creative work and the use of the books or library undoubtedly leave their mark on the individual personal libraries.

We inherited the basis of our collection from the Petőfi House, and therefore, when we would like to draw attention to the treasures of our collection, we generally refer to the original editions of Petőfi volumes. Even today, these serve as the basic sources for scientific research – chiefly for text editions – as does, for example, the copy of Petőfi’s A helység kalapácsa, most likely illustrated by the author himself. It was also the Petőfi House collection that preserved Mór Jókai’s private library for us – the approximately 1,500 volumes constituted the source for the writer’s novels. The collection contains dedicated volumes received from contemporaries, as well as Jókai’s writings in Hungarian, and foreign language translations of works by Petőfi and Jókai. The specially bound, beautifully decorated albums, the book rarities, and the gifts for the 50th jubilee of the outstanding writer are of particular interest.

One of our Library’s most important tasks is to collect the original editions of our literature, the censored volumes and correction copies, and to complete the collection as far as possible, since our institution does not only serve scientific research: the original and authentic copies often appear in exhibitions. A particular characteristic of our Library is that we pay attention to the publisher’s bindings, publisher’s or printer’s stamps, other bookbinder’s labels, the names of the cover and title page designers, and the addresses of their workshops. The artists are referenced in our cover catalogue.

Our assemblage of periodicals also boasts rare, unique copies. The Library has numerous periodicals that cannot be found in the collections of our associate institutions. An example of this are the complete volumes of the first periodical in Hungarian, the Magyar Museum (1788/89–1792), which has black ink corrections and amendments by the editor, János Batsányi (1763–1845). A number of the original editions of the periodicals also contain the full covers and the rare supplements. Mention should also be made of the collection of Hungarian papers published in emigration. Several periodicals in the assemblage containing almost 1,000 titles can only be found in our Museum.

The book and periodical collection is organically complemented by the leaflet collection, which numbers 30,000 items and contains special rarities. The 1848/49 assemblage holds several copies of the Tizenkét pont (Twelve Points, 15th March 1848, Pest) edited during the revolution of 1848–49; the copies preserve the printing and textual variants. Contemporary copies of the Nemzeti dal [National Song] also count among the rarities, of which our collection has several. In time, the scope of the leaflet collection was extended to invitation cards of literary relevance, programmes, placards, subscription notices, scores of poems set to music, and other occasional publications. The leaflet circle relating to the activities of Hungarian emigrants is also of notable importance. The special collection, which numbers 5,000 items, is mostly comprised of invitation cards and advertisements.

It followed from our collection interest that we should create a special collection of newspaper cuttings which reflect on Hungarian writers and their works, and which are to be found in almost every bequest we receive.