Editions

Sendbrief vom Dolmetschen 3 – The Publication

By Henrike Lähnemann

This is part of a series of introductory posts for the updated edition and translation of Martin Luther’s Sendbrief vom Dolmetschen und Fürbitte der Heiligen (An Open Letter on Translating and the Intercession of Saints), published as Volume 5 of the Treasures of the Taylorian. Series One: Reformation Pamphlets. Ebook of the publication

1. The Historical Context (Ulrich Bubenheimer)
2. The Translation Controversy (Howard Jones)
3. The Publication (Henrike Lähnemann)
4. Reading Early Modern German (Henrike Lähnemann)

Martin Luther’s pamphlets were the defining publishing phenomenon of the 1520s and 1530s and the staple of printing presses across the German-speaking area. This is reflected in the five copies of the Sendbrief held in Oxford, two from a Nuremberg edition (one of them the Taylorian from which this edition is produced), two from a Wittenberg edition (one of them so rushed that it needed an Errata page), and one copy from an Erfurt edition (with added title illustration) – all printed in quick succession in 1530.

The earliest publication to hit the market was, as far as we can determine from copying errors, printed in Nuremberg, 100 km south of the Coburg Fortress where Luther was at that point. A messenger could easily deliver a letter within days from the fortress to the imperial city. This aligns with the argument put forward by Ulrich Bubenheimer (Introduction 1) that the Sendbrief was an actual letter sent to Nuremberg and that Wenceslas Linck genuinely presented it to the press with his preface added. The text was produced by Johann Petreius, not the largest press in Nuremberg, but one with a distinguished backlist of authors and texts.[1]

Petreius had started in 1523 as an academic editor who also produced his own type: in 1524 he advertised that he had 12 fonts on offer, including one Greek and two Hebrew. He made his name printing Humanist publications, really breaking into the market in 1530, the year of the Sendbrief, when Latin texts by the Nuremberg Humanist Willibald Pirckheimer and astronomical treatises also came out of his press. His financial backer and publisher was Georg Rottmaier who commissioned a series of pro-Reformation pamphlets in 1530, among them another letter Luther wrote two months before the Send­brief, in Coburg, dated 6 July 1530, this one addressed to the Archbishop of Mainz, and a treatise Von den Schlüsseln about papal authority which appeared with the fictitious imprint Witten­berg.[2] In the Sendbrief, the print workshop and publication place are not named; the only place name is the allegorical ex eremo (‘from the wilderness’) from where Luther signed, symbolizing his status as an outcast and which he also used in other publications from the Coburg Fortress.

The reason for anonymity was to evade Nuremberg censorship. Nuremberg had formally become Protestant in 1525 after the public debate between the Lutheran minister Andreas Osiander and the Franciscan Lienhard Ebner but the town council was careful not to offend either side. Pamphlets could be published only on non-controversial topics. When Hans Sachs in 1527 wrote a new German text for an older anti-papal pamphlet, the Wunderliche Weyssagung von dem Babstumb,[3] he was sternly rebuked. Petreius obviously did not want to draw attention to the Sendbrief edition even if, with the backing of Rottmaier, Linck and possibly, as Ulrich Bubenheimer has shown, Lazarus Spengler, the place of origin must have been an open secret – which the town council might tolerate as long as the letter did not name Nurem­berg on the title page.

Petreius printed two editions in quick succession, possibly keeping part of the typeset text standing since the only obvious difference is the spelling of the name of Luther on the title-page, once with two ‘t’s (VD16 L 5949), once with one (VD16 L 5950); both Oxford copies belong to the double-t variety.

Martin Luther, Ein Sendbrief von Dolmetschen und Fürbitte der Heiligen, [Nürnberg, Johann Petreius:] 1530
Title: Ein Sendbrieff D. || M. Lutthers. || Von Dolmetzschen[n] || vnd Fürbit der || heiligenn
Imprint: M. D. XXX.
10 sheets in 4to. Quire signatures: aij, aiij, b, bij, biij, c; 19,5x15cm
Bodleian Library, Tr. Luth. 54 (16) and
Taylor Institution Library, Arch. 8° G. 1530(9); VD16 L 5949.

Petreius did not use any woodcut ornaments for the title-page; the layout is nearly identical to the earlier letter he had published, just adding the year at the bottom.

Title-pages of Petreius’s editions of Luther letters published in 1530
Right: 8 September the Open Letter on Translation VD16 L 5949 (Taylorian)
Left: 6 July to Archbishop Albrecht von Mainz VD16 L 4129 (copy BSB)

The title page is typeset in two different large typefaces: one black-letter typeface, three times the regular height of the text, with ornamental features such as doubling of the downstrokes in the capital letters ‘M’ and ‘V’, drawn out descenders for ‘z’ and ‘F’, a tilde-shaped (ñ) macron above the final n of Dolmetzschen to indicate a second n (as in heiligenn later in the title) and star-shaped stops for abbreviations, and one Roman typeface with wedge-shaped stops between the Roman numerals, giving the year of publication as M.D.XXX.

For the main body of the text, Petreius uses a black-letter type throughout with slightly ornamented capital letters, and a double-height face with more ornate upper-case letters for the headings.

Headings and historiated G initials in Petreius’s editions of letters by Luther
Sendbrief (Taylorian), left a1v, right a2r

Petreius seems to have had a large set of initial woodblocks designed for use with Roman type, since he uses three different five-line high G blocks for printing Luther’s letters. In the Letter to Albrecht von Mainz he uses for one edition a naked boy pushing the letter to the left and for the other a wheat sheaf. For both editions of the Sendbrief he uses a putto, also moving to the left.

Letter to Albrecht von Mainz VD16 L 4129 (BSB) / VD16 L 4130 (Bamberg)

While the G putto for the prefatory letter by Wenceslaus Link (a1v) is a nod to classical texts, the initial which presumably amused the learned part of the contemporary readership most is the larger six-line G starting the actual text (a2r, ill. 7 right); within a walled garden, a richly clad woman is riding side-saddle on a rather plump man with the soft cap of a scholar, crawling on all fours behind the body of the initial. The woman holds the reins which are tied round his neck. This is a depiction of Aristoteles and Phyllis, one of the so-called ‘Weiberlisten’, examples of the cunning of women to show that even the mightiest philosopher cannot withstand female power.

The typesetting is carefully laid out, with the prefatory epistle tapering out funnel-shaped at the bottom of a1v, the sign-off by Martin Luther aligned to the right on c2r, and generous spacing with paragraphs marked clearly by indentation. Where Luther speaks about the four letters of the word ‘sola’ (a4v), the characters are spaced out to underline the point.

‘Sperrdruck’ (extended spacing) to underline the point about ‘sola’ (a4v)

As pointed out above, Petreius’s text as represented by the Taylorian copy is that of the earliest surviving edition, the so-called ‘A’ text. The next edition, the ‘B’ text, was printed by Georg Rhau at Wittenberg, also in 1530. The B edition appears to be based closely on A, but there are differences which suggest that B was in fact copied from a now lost predecessor of A, perhaps a proof copy which Rhau had managed to obtain before the official print release from Nuremberg.[4] It has a woodcut border which highlights Wittenberg as the official place for publishing Martin Luther (Ill. 10).

Bodleian Library, Tr. Luth. 54 (15) [without Errata]; VD16 L 5951
Puttos holding the Luther rose between the initials ML

It can be assumed that Georg Rhau, used to having first right to publish when Luther was resident in Wittenberg, was keen to get his hand on this text as soon as possible. He was also highlighting the fact that Wittenberg was the place for authorized Luther editions by using a title woodcut which included a separate ornamental frame for the place name and date and, even more importantly, included the ‘Lutherrose’, an allegorical coat-of-arms developed by Luther: a cross in a heart in a rose – a theological statement which doubled as a copyright claim, placed between Luther’s initials ‘M’ and ‘L’.

This woodcut border from the workshop of Lucas Cranach had been used in Wittenberg since 1524, when Luther asked for a woodcut to be added to the second part of his Old Testament translation with a statement of his approval of this publication. It was soon firmly established and the border for the 1530 Wittenberg Sendbrief was already used when Christian Döring printed Luther’s pamphlet Daß Eltern die Kinder zur Ehe nicht zwingen noch hindern sollen (VD16 L 4301, copy in the Taylor Institution Library, Arch. 8° G. 1524(7)), urging parents to arrange marriages amicably with their children. The Lutherrose-certified title-border was used continuously thereafter.[5]

In 1523, Georg Rhau had taken over the press from his relative Johann Rhau-Grunenberg who had been the first Luther printer and is known for his typographical errors.[6] The two copies from Rhau’s workshop, one with a list of errors and one without, are contained in a volume in the Bodleian Library Tr. Luth. 54, which brings together 28 Luther pamphlets from 1530 and includes no fewer than four copies of the Sendbrief. This is typical of the 84 bound volumes of ‘Tractatus Lutherani’[7] bought at Sotheby’s in 1818, which came from a private collection in Augsburg and was later expanded to 538 volumes, comprising in all 2,513 published Reformation items. The collector Johannes Gottlob May (1754–1821) had arranged the pamphlets by year, starting with Wittenberg within each year. The pamphlets are not in strict chronological order, not only because the Nuremberg copy precedes the Wittenberg copies chronologically, but also because the copy with the list of errors is later than the one without.

Tr. Luth. 54 (14), Errata entries on Diijv.

The copy which comes first in the collection, Tr. Luth. 54 (14), has two errors listed on d3v, the back of the last text page (ill. 11): the erroneous versichern instead of versehen on a3r and the omission of nichts in schadet mir sonderlich nichts on a4v. Both are mistakes which have been corrected in later editions but not in the second copy, Tr. Luth. 54 (15); it has the same typographical errors but no Errata list.[8] This shows that they both belong to the same first Wittenberg edition by Georg Rhau and that the former is from a later part of the print run when the mistakes had been noticed and the Errata note had been inserted on the empty last page as a Presskorrektur, a correction or addition done while the main body of the text remained unchanged during the print run.

Martin Luther, Ein Sendbrief von Dolmetschen und Fürbitte der Heiligen
Wittenberg, Johannes Rhau-Grunenberg: 1530
Title: Ein Send= || brieff/ von Dolmet= || schen/ vnd Fürbit= || te der Hei= || ligen. || D. Mart. Luther. ||
Imprint: Wittemberg. || M. D. XXX.
16 sheets in 4to. Quire signatures: Aij, Aiij, B, Bij, Biij, C, Cij, Ciij, D, Dij; 20,2×15,5cm
Bodleian Library, Tr. Luth. 54 (15) [without Errata] and
Bodleian Library, Tr. Luth. 54 (14) [with Errata]; VD16 L 5951

The later Wittenberg editions by Georg Rhau (VD16 L 5952 and VD16 L 5953), of which there are no copies in Oxford, corrected the typos but in the process introduced a new one on Aiijr, Ebar for Erbar.

The last version of the pamphlet bound in the volume (Tr. Luth. 54 (17) has a border with biblical scenes (ill. 12): Samson tearing apart the lion, Goliath about to be attacked by David, and David watching Bathsheba. The top scene could also be a depiction of David, who reports that as a boy he rescued sheep from the mouth of bears and lions. Since this speech happens directly before the fight with Goliath in David’s conversation with Saul (1 Sam 17, 34-37), this would be a fitting prequel to the following scene where the title of the Sendbrief becomes the missive which David from the right fires at Goliath on the left. But the figure of the man tearing apart the lion is more in line with the iconography for Samson as a mature man with plenty of hair rather than the shepherd boy David. The bearded figure is also in keeping with the printer who originally commissioned the border at the Cranach workshop, Hans Barth (“beard”), and his house sign of a razor which can be seen in the top left-hand corner. Barth used the border from 1526; when he moved from Wittenberg to Magdeburg, he seems to have sold some woodcuts to Andreas Rauscher in Erfurt.[9]

Bodleian Library, Tr. Luth. 54 (17); VD16 L 5948

Three scenes from the Old Testament: Samson tearing apart the lion, David killing Goliath, and David watching Bathsheba in the bath. The coat of arms showing a barber’s knife across an anchor and a jumping fox belong to Hans Barth who used the same woodcut in pamphlets from 1526, notably in VD16 B 9425.

The version has a fictitious imprint claiming it to be printed in Wittenberg in 1530,[10] but the typeface of the initial G is in line with books produced by Rauscher, e.g. Der hundert und siebenzehend Psalm, Erffurdt: Andreas Rauscher 1530.

left: Bodleian Library, Tr. Luth. 54 (17), a2r; VD16 L 5948;
right: BSB München, Exeg. 1361, a1v; VD16 L 4972

Martin Luther, Ein Sendbrief von Dolmetschen und Fürbitte der Heiligen
[Erfurt, Andreas Rauscher:] 1530
Title: Ein Send= || brieff/ von Dolmet= || schen/ vnd Fürbitte || der Heiligen. || D. Mart. Luther. ||
Imprint: Wittemberg. || M. D. XXX.
10 sheets in 4to. Quire signatures: Aiij, B, Bij, Biij, C; 19,5×14,9cm.
Bodleian Library, Tr. Luth. 54 (17); VD16 L 5948.

The pamphlet was part of a larger collection of pamphlets, as the contemporary foliation number ‘311’ on the title shows, followed by ‘312’ on a2r and so on; it was therefore bought first as an unbound pamphlet, then joined with other items in a sammelband of well over 600 pages, then taken apart and rebound in the systematic collection of the ‘Tractatus Lutheri’ where it became the 17th item in the volume and the fourth copy in the series of Sendbrief collection now preserved in the Bodleian.

* * *

Upper pastedown of the Sendbrief, ARCH.8°.G.1530 (9),
with the Taylor Institution crest and former shelfmarks

The Taylorian copy has a different provenance from the Bodleian ‘Tractatus Lutheri’ sammelband even though the copy came to Oxford more or less at the same time. The Taylor Institution Library acquired the greater part of its significant collection of Reformation texts and pamphlets in the 19th century at the suggestion of Professor Friedrich Max Müller (1823–1900), who, although better known as an Orientalist and Professor of Comparative Philology, was also the Taylorian’s second Professor of Modern European Languages. The librarian, Dr Heinrich Krebs (1844–1921), a native of Darmstadt in Germany, acquired many as duplicates from German libraries, notably from Heidelberg in 1878. Further additions were made in the 1920s and 1930s and two titles were presented by Professor Hermann Georg Fiedler (1862–1945) in 1940. The library now has 436 pamphlets ranging in date from 1518 to 1589, mainly by Luther with a few by Melanchthon, Hans Sachs, Hutten, and others.

We decided to reproduce the full pamphlet, including the blank page at the end (Ill. 15 and facsimile c2v), because the textless space actually tells a lot about the history of the Sendbrief, so much so that we can talk about the ‘three lives of a pamphlet’: as pocket pamphlet, collectible item, and teaching tool.

The grime on the edges and the crease in the middle of the page point to its first life: as an independent booklet, sold for not much more than a magazine today, folded by the buyer, carried in the pocket and, we imagine, passed surreptitiously between family and friends. These pamphlets were printed on large sheets of rag paper, approximately A3-sized, made with the help of a metal paper mould. One of the lines impressed by the mould (chain lines) is visible on the last page, running horizontally through the pencilled-in ‘T’. For the printing of the Sendbrief there were two-and-a-half of these sheets, marked ‘a’, ‘b’, and ‘c’ by the printer. Each sheet would be printed with a forme into which four pages were locked so that they folded into an approximately A5-sized booklet (you can print your own version of this from the website). The watermark, also impressed by the mould, ended up in the gutter between the second and third page of each folded sheet (quire). It can be hard to make out, but on the last page it is a diamond shape with a cross in it, probably the top half of a more complex watermark, faintly visible as a lighter shade three quarters of the way down the right-hand edge.

Watermark of the second quire as visible on b3v

To indicate to the seller or bookbinder how to fold the sheets, the sequence of pages within each of the quires (sheets) is marked. On a4r you see a ij, on a3r a iij, on b1r b, on b2r b ij, b3r b iij, c1r c. On each side there is also a ‘catchword’ which shows how the text continues on the next page.

Example of quire mark and catchword for a3r


Pamphlets did not have a high survival rate: they were zerlesen (read to pieces), recycled, or lost. Our Sendbrief survived because it was bound with other similar matter into a Sammelband, a composite of items which were often connected thematically. It had to pay for its survival by being cropped to fit in with the rest of the collection – the missing upper part of the top line of the last page (c2r) bears witness to this. We do not know who did this but it was a popular practice among supporters of the Reformation to acquire a number of these booklets on similar topics and build up their own library of theological controversy. The collection must have been quite extensive since there is the shadow of what would have been a ‘Ledernase’ (tab made of leather) visible on the last page, making it easy to look up the single items in the composite volume.

This particular collection ended up in the University Library of Heidelberg as the stamp Bibl: Univ: Heidelb on the back of the first page (a1v) shows. There it was separated again when in the nineteenth century spare copies of pamphlets were sold off; hence the blue stamp with Dvplvm (duplicate) marking it as being for sale.

The pamphlet did not enjoy its new-found independence for long. In 1878 it changed hands again and moved to England. When the Taylorian acquired it, as marked in the new library stamp next to the Heidelberg one, it was bound again, and this time sewn together with a padding of sixteen leaves of wood-based modern paper and glued into a cardboard cover which then had the Taylor Institution ‘ex libris’ pasted on top. The numerous pencil marks give a whole history of shelfmarks between the acquisition date and the modern shelving system in which the rare or ‘Arch.’ material is kept in the Taylorian’s own strongroom. The current numbering reflects the status of the pamphlet (‘ARCH.’), the format (equivalent to a modern octavo = 8° volume, though historically it is a quarto format since it was folded just twice), G. for ‘German’, ‘1530’ for the year of its printing, and ‘(9)’ for the place in the sequence of German octavo pamphlets from this particular year, showing the rich crop of pamphlets among the holdings.

The empty padding pages prepared the pamphlet for teaching at the Taylorian: it became a scholarly item ready for annotations by students and scholars. Although these modern pages have been respectfully left blank, the pamphlet has been intensively studied since that time. It forms an important link between studies in Theology, Historical Linguistics, Translation Theory, and History of the Book, and regularly features in handling sessions for undergraduate and graduate students. The Taylor Editions Series: Reformation Pamphlets in which the Sendbrief was the first digital and print-on-demand edition has added a further dimension to this use as teaching tool. Since 2017, the xml edition has been used to introduce graduate students to scholarly editing, and the second edition will feature on further courses, as students from the new MSc in Digital Scholarship will also learn from the Taylor Editions series how to work through issues such as digital preservation, depositing publications, and disseminating findings via social media and outreach events.


[1] Keunecke (1982), p. 113.

[2] For a list of publications by Martin Luther during his stay in Coburg, see the exhibition documentation on ‘Martin Luther and the Early Reformation. Sites: Coburg’, at bavarikon.de.

[3] Facsimile and transcription of the two Taylorian copies available via https://editions.mml.ox.ac.uk/editions/weyssagung/.

[4] A few linguistic differences between A and B are mentioned in the footnotes to the present edition.

[5] For a quick overview of the changing fashions in promoting Lutheran writing cf. the flickr-page of all titlepages of Taylorian Reformation pamphlets set up by Christiane Rehagen as part of an Erasmus+ internship in 2017.

[6] See the discussion of the print workshop of Rhau-Grunenberg and different editions of ‘Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen’ by Maximilian Krümpelmann, https://editions.mml.ox.ac.uk/editions/freiheit-1520/.

[7] Cf. the guide to named collections in the Bodleian, https://libguides.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/rarebooks/named_collections

[8] This copy includes in a 19th century hand on the back of the title page (a1v) a transcript of the Latin letter by Luther to Linck, 12 September 1530; WA.B 5, 620, 1─3.

[9] Hence the claim in the printed version of the VD16 that this edition was printed in Magdeburg by Hans Barth, corrected in the online version for VD16 L 5948. Two Sendbrief editions were printed in Magdeburg: VD16 5954 or 5955. On Rauscher as printer in Erfurt 1530–1535 see Reske (2015) p. 220.

[10] On the claim that the printing was at Wittenberg cf. Thomas (2022).

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