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Sunday, 5 October 2014
Alf Åberg and autograph collectors - part 1
Topic: Archives

On 21 September 1962 the historian Alf Åberg (1916-2011) wrote in his column in the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet about a recent auction in Stockholm which had featured a large number of manuscripts and letters originating from government archives. Åberg pointed out that many of them appeared to have belonged to the archive of the Livonian Governor General and questioned how it was possible that such items could be traded freely. Even more absurd was, Åberg stated, that Riksarkivet had been unable to purchase them because of the high prices. Would it not be appropriate to introduce legislation similar to the one existing for historical artifacts made of precious metals, i.e. that the finder would be obliged to present such items to the authorities and be reimbursed according to a determined tariff?

In the article Åberg never mentioned the name of the seller, but he returned to the subject in another column two years later (26 May 1964). One of the items sold in 1962 had reappeared in an antiquarian book store in Stockholm and Riksarkivet had tried to purchase it. However (according to Åberg) the price was now much higher and the owner was not even prepared to allow Riksarkivet to copy the manuscript as he feared it would affect the price negatively. Instead it was rumored that the owner considered breaking up the volume in the belief that he could get even more money by selling the various autographs in it one by one. Åberg was even more upset than he had been in 1962. Surely the sitution called for a thorough investigation into possible remedies?

In the second article Åberg also named the previous owner, the person the item had belonged to before the sale in 1962. Not surprising it was Ernst Malmberg (1867-1960), who had sold similar items at auctions as early as in the 1910's. Malmberg dabbled in many things and was at the beginning of the 20th century friends with everybody of any relevance in Swedish cultural life. He was also, by all appearances, the first Swede to be granted access to the archive of the Livonian Governor General after the publication of Bienemann's catalogue in 1908. This, along with the fact that he owned a large collection of documents from the same archive, suggests that his visit to Riga in 1909 or 1910 may have included a bit more than just studying of documents...

But what happened to the item which reappeared in 1964? Well, as luck would have it the volume was purchased by a descendant of one of the most prominent Swedish officials in Riga during the GNW. Not long after it was acquired by Riksarkivet and now rests (probably largely unnoticed by researchers) in one of the volumes in the series Livonica

To be continued... 

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 6:00 PM MEST
Updated: Sunday, 5 October 2014 6:04 PM MEST
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