Beeghly Library

LitClass 10

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Donation from The Mutual Benefit Group
W. Emmert Swigart Books, Summer 1999

More than 1000 rare books have been given to the Special Collections, Beeghly Library at Juniata College by the local Mutual Benefit Group, the continuation of Swigart Associates. The firm was established by W. Emmert Swigart, Juniata graduate and well-known Huntingdon businessman and philanthropist. Today, the company is a multiline property casualty insurance group with five member companies offering insurance policies covering autos, homes, and businesses. The college was thrilled that Mutual Benefit decided to entrust us with such a historically significant collection.

The idea for the donation came about through a series of conversations between golf buddies Joe Sloan, 81’, of the Mutual Benefit Group, and Juniata College Library Director John Mumford. Dr. Donald Durnbaugh, College Archivist, then was brought in on the idea offering advice and confirming the importance of the collection and its relevancy to the collection the college already held. Juniata’s Special Collections already contained many important Pennsylvania-German imprints as well as numerous other rare books and manuscripts – thus it seemed to be a good fit, and one that Mutual Benefit hopes will be of great scholarly interest and value.


Sitting left to right: Juniata College President Dr. Kepple and Steven Sliver, CEO and President of Mutual Benefit Group, examine an 18th Century Sauer Bible. Standing in the back left to right are Mutual Benefit's CFO Joe Sloan, President and COO of Swigart Associates John Courson, and John Swigart Jr. retired Charimen of the Board of Swigart Associates

The most historic and valuable core of the donation from Mutual Benefit Group are German-American imprints, especially those printed in Germantown and Ephrata in the eighteenth century. These volumes, highly sought after by collectors, feature copies of the three editions of the German-language Bible printed in Germantown by Christopher Sauer I and his like-named son, Christopher Sauer II. The first Sauer initiated his famous printing operation in 1738 with an almanac, defined as an enriched calendar providing useful information for both farm and town dwellers.

Sauer I made history with his 1743 Bible, the first published in North America in a European language (it was preceded by a Bible issued in New England in an Indian tongue). Considered a masterpiece of printing, the 1743 Sauer Bible features a title page in two colors, and reproduces Martin Luther’s German translation (with a few additions from other versions). In size alone it was a major achievement, surpassed only by the massive Martyrs Mirror (1748-49), the book of Christian martyrs published at the Ephrata Cloister, a fine copy of which is included in the Mutual Benefit gift. When the world-famous Gutenberg museum of publishing located in Mainz, Germany, was rebuilt after World War II, the American government quite appropriately donated a copy of the 1743 Bible to take its place among the world’s most noted books. It is to this day given a place of prominence in the museum at Mainz.

The son, Sauer II, continued his father’s accomplishments when he inherited the printing establishment in 1758. He published two more editions of the German Bible in 1764 and 1778, before the print shop was disrupted by the Revolutionary War. Following the war for independence some copies of the third edition of 1776 were gathered from loose leaves and bound for distribution. No fewer than fifteen copies of these three editions came to the College in this valued gift.

Also included are seven copies of the noted Somerset German Bible of 1813, the first Bible published west of the Alleghenies; the printer was Friedrich Goeb. One of these copies has a rubricated title-page (printed in two colors), not otherwise known to the scholarly world. In addition, W. Emmert Swigart had collected 35 copies of the well-known Mennonite hymnbook, the Unpartheyisches Gesang-Buch, ranging from the first edition published in 1804 to an edition issued in 1871. The hymnal is still used by Old Order Mennonite groups, probably explaining why so many were to be found.

Of particular interest are German-language books printed by the pioneer Brethren publisher, Henry Kurtz, whose print shop was located in Northeastern Ohio. Kurtz was a German-born immigrant and one-time Lutheran pastor who produced the first Brethren periodical in 1851. It continues in altered form as the denominational journal, Messenger. There are three copies of a significant an early compilation of the works of Menno Simons issued by the Kurtz press in 1833. Many years ago, descendants of Kurtz contributed to Juniata College books from the personal libraries of Henry Kurtz and his son Henry J. Kurtz of Ohio. The valued Abraham Harley Cassel collection at Juniata contains other extremely rare examples of the early printing activity of Henry Kurtz.

Another substantial segment of the Swigart collection consists of the multiple editions of large (folio) Bibles published in Nürnberg, Germany by the Thurneysen family, all in the Martin Luther translation. These date from the early to the late 18th century. When immigrants made the dangerous ocean crossing to come to North America during the colonial period, they were extremely limited in what they could bring. The family Bible, as represented by these copies, was often chosen as a valued possession.

A few of the MBG Gift books

Though the German-language books are the most valuable part of the collection, from a monetary point of view, most of the books are 19th and 20th century volumes in English or great historical and literary significance. The range of interest of W. Emmert Swigart is shown in this collection: numbers of Pennsylvania county histories appear (much sought after currently by collectors). He also acquired many volumes in the Pennsylvania Archives series, the official collection of documents relating to the history of the Commonwealth, as well as yearbooks of the Pennsylvania German Society. In the same general context are dozens of books dealing with local and regional Pennsylvania history. Beyond this are valuable sets of biographical studies, often in multiple volumes, documenting the lives of Pennsylvania worthies.

These regional works are expanded to reflect interest in general American history, with multi-volumned standard studies, biographies, military stories, and travel accounts. Many geographical descriptions add to the portrayal of the American experience.

Also to be mentioned are the books of literature, including the collected works of writers such as Mark Twain and Rudyard Kipling. The controversial history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) is well represented in the collection, including rare works from the mid 19th century when the Mormons made their great trek to Utah to establish their kingdom of Deseret.

In sum, scholars studying Pennsylvania-German printing, as well as those interested in regional and national American history and literature will find much of benefit in the donation from Mutual Benefit Group to Juniata College. The college is extremely grateful that the gift has been given to us for preservation and use by many generations of interested patrons.

D.F. Durnbaugh, Archivist
John W. Mumford, Library Director