On Friday, 26th October 2012, Karl Hartung died peacefully at the age of 98. He was the oldest member of the German Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association (VDA), and he was the ideal and guide for generations of younger colleagues. In many ways Karl Hartung was one of the most distinguished personalities of our profession and one of the oldest active professional booksellers in the world. Until the end, he was not only mentally alert, but funny, charming and almost omniscient.
Karl Hartung was born in Bad Ischl (Austria) in 1914. Fifteen years old, he was sent to Munich on the recommendation of Dr. Curt von Faber du Faur. There he worked for the auction house and antiquarian bookshop Karl & Faber. At that time, Karl & Faber sold many important libraries, as for example the Oettingen-Wallerstein Library with more than 160,000 volumes and 2,000 incunabula which passed Hartung’s hands, including the 14th century manuscript of Rudolf von Ems’ “Chronica”, with over 400 miniatures.
In 1931, the antiquarian bookseller and collector of Baroque literature Curt von Faber du Faur emigrated to the United States. (His collection of 7000 Baroque books was later given to Yale University). So it was Karl Hartung who rebuilt the auction house in Munich after 1945 together with Dr. Georg Karl. In 1971 the company was divided into an art branch (owned by Dr. Georg Karl) and a book branch (owned by Karl Hartung) who specialised in rare books, manuscripts, autographs and prints. Today, the auction house is called Hartung & Hartung and led by Karl Hartung's son Felix and his daughter Catherine.
Karl Hartung’s career was long and successful: In 1977 he sold one of the earliest Koran manuscripts to the Bavarian State Library. In 1978 he auctioned the library of the Empress Elizabeth of Austria. Four years later he sold the collection of Alfred Walterspiel, famous for its numerous wonderful books on gastronomy. In 1993, the cookbook collection Peter Alicke came to auction followed by the Hermann Hesse collection of Professor Otto Bareiss Ohloff in 1999.
Karl Hartung started his career as an antiquarian bookseller at a time when the flourishing trade in Munich, London or Paris was coined by booksellers and bibliophiles such as the Rosenthal family, Martin Breslauer, Julius Hess, Martin Bodmer, Hugo Borst, Hans Fürstenberg and Anton Kippenberg. With many of them Hartung was well acquainted, some of them were good friends. He was a member of the German Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association (VDA) from the beginning, and in 1968 he played a decisive role when the two associations (the “Verband” and the “Vereinigung”) were merged to the now existing “Verband Deutscher Antiquare e.V.” And almost 50 years ago he was one of the founders of the German Rare Book School, together with Werner Fritsch, Raimund Kitzinger and Dr. Lotte Roth Wölfle. The first seminar for antiquarian booksellers in Germany was organized by Karl Hartung and held in his auction house from 1st to 2nd May, 1971.
All his friends, colleagues, collectors and all members of the German Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association will never forget him!
(By Eberhard Köstler)