Fraktur-ed Fairy Tales

In a recent blog post, Harvard philosophy librarian Eric Johnson-DeBaufre tells the story of how Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche took over her brother Friedrich’s literary and philosophical legacy and remade it toward her own (proto-Nazi, German Nationalist, anti-semitic) ends. One of the most fascinating things in the tale told in Johnson-DeBaufre’s post is the way in which even the typface of a book could be (and in fact was) a part of promoting claims about national identity and establishing the nationalist bona fides of its author. Elisabeth didn’t just edit her brother’s work and re-frame it — she reprinted it, republishing material that had already been printed in Antiqua in iconically German Fraktur.

As I read the post, it occurred to me that not only had I seen a Fraktur edition of Nietzsche’s work, I actually owned one. When my employer’s library did a round of weeding many years ago (not long after I was hired), one of the books removed from the collection was a weird little orphan: volume 8 of the 11-volume 1922 Alfred Kröner Verlag (Leipzig) edition of Nietzsche’s complete works (as originally put together by Elisabeth with publisher C.G. Naumann), in sad shape but still readable.


The text wears its Fraktur proudly for what is, I think, meant to be a cheaper “pocket” edition (the cover boards are thin, stiffened paper, and the binding is glued rather than stitched), a style pioneered by Alfred Kröner that is apparently the precursor of the paperback publishing format.


The book has taken a beating over the years, although when it was removed from the library’s collection more than a decade ago, it hadn’t been checked out for a very, very long time; my current employer hasn’t had a robust German program for years, and recently eliminated all non-English languages other than Spanish from the curriculum. A penciled note beside the table of contents indicates that this book sold (or was listed to be sold) for about 90 cents in 1969; it’s not clear whether that note indicates when and from whom the library purchased it.


The full note on the left margin reads: “Lang + Lit (Lockhard) German Bookstore 2-24-69,” followed by the price. There are also two OCNs (one crossed out), a DDC call number (crossed out) and the LOC call number written in pen and pencil on various bits of the page not pictured here.

The contents of Volume VIII include an introduction to the volume (contextualizing its content relative to the rest of Nietzsche’s work, the usual thing one expects), a version of Beyond Good and Evil, a version of On The Genealogy of Morals, and “From the Nachlass,” some further material “On Peoples and Fatherlands” from 1886. There is also an afterword written by Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche in which she very briefly discusses the history of the two main texts, their connection to other items in the nachlass, and some editorial notes on the material as assembled.

There is something about the odd combination of aims here — Nietzsche’s original agenda vs. Elisabeth’s packaging and promotion of her brother’s work, all set in the context of AKV’s broader goal to make important works materially accessible to people who might not otherwise be able to afford to read them — that seems worth exploring further.

UPDATE: Because I couldn’t leave well enough alone, I wrote a little more about this typeface business — check it out!

About L. M. Bernhardt

Deaccessioned philosopher. Occasional Musician. Academic librarian, in original dust jacket. Working to keep my dogs in the lavish manner to which they have become accustomed.
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4 Responses to Fraktur-ed Fairy Tales

  1. This is a fantastic post and a fascinating contribution to what, I think, is a story in philosophy that remains to be written: namely, the important but almost entirely overlooked role that the material book has played in philosophy’s dissemination, reception, and re-presentation. On the one hand it is a pretty obvious story: without the advent of printing and its continued development and refinement over centuries philosophy would, like most other subjects, have remained an even more niche subject. On the other hand, there are all kinds of things to be learned and said about the role played by the work of countless publishers and the decisions they made about typefaces, format, paper quality, and much more that we simply take for granted.

    Your insights, for example, about the binding decisions of AKV and the part this played in making Nietzsche’s work more accessible is exactly the kind of thing I have in mind. How many such editions were printed and sold by AKV? How costly were they? From this we begin to learn things about the size and, perhaps, socio-economic status range of Nietzsche’s readership in the 1920s.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say how stimulating I found your post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I thought your original post was terrific. This is fascinating to me.

      One reason I liked your post so much is because I am curious about the printed book as a form of information technology, with features and standards etc. that users need to come to understand in order to make the most of it. I’m convinced that figuring out the operation and distribution of that technology in the history of philosophy would, as you say, reveal quite a lot worth knowing about how philosophical ideas are received, understood, and shared (and by whom). I have to confess that the material culture of the book is something I’m only just beginning to learn about, but I think the example of Nietzsche’s re-setting is brilliant for illustrating exactly how important grasping the effects of the book as an object (as a technology, etc.) can be for understanding the world.

      Thank you again.


  2. Reblogged this on philosophy in the margin and commented:
    A stimulating post by L. M. Bernhardt that responds to and develops in new directions my post The Faces of Nietzsche.


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