Mühlbauer & Behrle: Importers, Booksellers, and Stationers

The provenance material that we have been collecting over the past few months from Loyola’s original library books has come from all points in the lifespan of the surviving books.  Some tell us about original owners, like seventeenth-century monasteries, while others get us closer but not quite to the founding of St Ignatius College.  Last week’s research brought to our attention a bookplate that places us right in the period when St. Ignatius was collecting in the 1870s.  Researching this work reveals a story that includes two enterprising German businessmen, the Great Chicago Fire, a rare title, and a tragic loss.

The bookplate is pasted on the inside front cover of Loyola’s edition of the Spiritual Exercises from 1738 (now in the collections of Loyola’s Special Collections and University Archives):

our starting point

The bookplate and it’s placement in an eighteeth-century edition of the Spiritual Exercises raises interesting questions.  First, who were Mühlbauer & Behrle?  How did they get in to the book selling business? Were they successful at what they did? Did they deal in antique books? rebind old books? or some combination thereof? Luckily, this pair left a trail in the history of the Chicago book selling business.

According to Alfred T Andreas’ History of Chicago Vol 3 (1886), Mühlbauer and Behrle began their business in July 1870 at No. 147 North Clark Street.  They lost their stock, worth $10,000 in the 1871 Great Chicago Fire.  According to Andreas, they only realized $350 on their insurance policy of $5200.  “Their creditors not only extended the time for payment of old debts, but sent word to them to order all the goods they wanted and to take all the time they needed for payment. By the leniency of their creditors, they have always paid one hundred cents on the dollar.”   Mühlbauer and Behrle rebuilt their company at No. 311 West Twelfth Street, which would have been right down the street from St Ignatius College.  In the spring of 1874 they moved to a new location at No. 41 LaSalle Street.  Perhaps this book came into the collection of St Ignatius between the fall of 1871 and the spring of 1874.

Andreas includes more information about the principals in the firm:

“Aloys Muehlbauer, the senior member of this firm, was born in Bavaria, Germany, on April 15, 1841. Finishing his education, when sixteen years of age, at one of the gymnasium schools near his birthplace, he became an employee with Fred Pustet, Ratisbon, Bavaria, and other book firms in Bavaria and Austria, and then with Benziger Bros., a Catholic book and church-goods house, whose headquarters are at Einsiedelen, Switzerland. With this firm he remained nearly four years. They have branch houses in New York, Cincinnati and St. Louis. He came to America in 1867, going to Cincinnati as an employee of the old firm in Switzerland. There he remained until 1870, when he came to Chicago in company with Raymond Behrle, his present partner …

“Raymond Behrle was born at Cincinnati, Ohio, on November 25, 1836. His parents, natives of Baden, Germany, immigrated to this country in 1830, and settled at Cincinnati in 1831. He received his education in the parochial school of St. Mary’s Church, Cincinnati, and in 1850 commenced work for Kreuzburg & Nurre, a book firm, continuing with them until 1860. At this time he made an engagement with Benziger Brothers, successors to Kreuzburg & Nurre, remaining with them until 1870, when he formed a partnership with his present partner…”

Once they settled into their post-fire operation, they were well-known for their selection.  “Here may be seen as complete a stock of books as is to be found in the city, comprising the leading standard works of fiction, history, biography, science, theology, prose and poetry, many of the editions being imported, and most of them printed in the German language. The firm also publish and deal in all kinds of church goods. They have achieved a more than local reputation, and are in constant receipt of orders from all quarters of the United States. Every effort is made on the part of the able and painstaking proprietors to cater to the most elevated and refined intellectual taste. ranging from fiction to history to prose and theology… (Origin, growth, and usefulness of the Chicago Board of Trade, 1885, p.359). Mühlbauer and Behrle were also listed in an edition of Publishers Weekly under “German Bookstores” which stated that they were known for selling “a full line of church goods, from vestments, chalices, lamps, candlesticks, statues…”  This pair of German businessmen thrived in their enterprise. According to Publishers Weekly the pair recorded annual sales of $50,000, which adjusted for inflation comes out to over $890,000.

The sources from the 1880s establish that the firm was selling contemporary German publications.  But is this 1738 Spiritual Exercises an indication that they also dealt in antique books?  Or were they simply rebinding books for customers? Answering this question is a little bit more tricky…


Click on the image to see the book on our Flickr site.

A 1891 edition of The Directory of Second-Hand Book Sellers provides evidence that Mühlbauer & Behrle sold used books.  More evidence that Mühlbauer & Behrle sold used and rare books shows up again in a recent listing in the Philadelphia Rare Books and Manuscripts Company for a 1583 edition of Pietro Galatino’s De arcanis Catholicae veritatis… in original condition and with a book plate from Mühlbauer & Behrle.

There is one more piece of the puzzle:  Behrle married Christina Ellick in 1860 and had five children.  Alexander J, the oldest, attended St Ignatius College for three academic years, between 1873 and 1876, studying Third, Second, and First Humanities, the equivalent to today’s High School part of the curriculum. His younger brother Louis Frederick followed in his footsteps and began the Third Humanities program in the Fall of 1876, but soon after died at the age of sixteen. (Source: St Ignatius College Course Catalogues).

Whether Mühlbauer & Behrle acquired (probably from Europe) and sold the book to St Ignatius, simply rebound the book for them, or perhaps gave it in memory of Louis Frederick Behrle requires more research.  The book itself is quite rare.  Worldcat only lists six known copies, of which Loyola owns the only one in the United States.  Given the importance of the Spiritual Exercises to the Jesuits, we can only begin to imagine the range of ways and reasons this book made its way to the St Ignatius College Library.

If anyone has information to share on Mühlbauer & Behrle, on this edition of the Spiritual Exercises, or anything else that might be useful, please do in the comments below!

– Jim Naughton, Intern



4 thoughts on “Mühlbauer & Behrle: Importers, Booksellers, and Stationers

  1. Apparently St Ignatius College continued to acquire books from this firm after they moved to their post-fire location on LaSalle Street:


    (A 1715 L’Etat Present De La Nation De L’Eglise Grecque En Turquie)

  2. Raymond Behrle was a br0ther of my Great-great grandmother Elizabeth (Behrle) Craver.
    I have a scan of a picture of his bookstore in Chicago on 311 West 12th if you are interested.
    [I gave the original to one of his descendants].

    • Absolutely! Please email it to us at JesuitProvenanceProject@gmail.com and we will post it on the site. Please also share any other family history you have. The course catalogues for St Ignatius list Alexander J Behrle as a student at the college from 1873-1876 and Louis F Behrle as a student from 1876 to 1878. Might they be sons or nephews of Raymond’s?

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