Americanischer Wegweiser

Biblio-file: Selections from the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library
October 1, 2009

 

"Die Provintz Nord und Sud Carolina," frontispiece, Americanischer Wegweiser, by Johann Rudolff Ochs, German. Published in Bern, Switzerland, 1711.

"Die Provintz Nord und Sud Carolina," frontispiece, Americanischer Wegweiser, by Johann Rudolff Ochs, German. Published in Bern, Switzerland, 1711. Duke University Special Collections Library

In 1924, when Trinity College became Duke University, the library held fewer than 100,000 volumes. However, the library reached an important milestone in 1950 when it acquired its millionth volume, Americanischer Wegweiser (or American Guidebook), an early description of North and South Carolina by the German traveler Johann Rudolff Ochs. A gem engraver who visited England twice, Ochs probably had not been to America himself but depended on talking to travelers returning from Carolina and reading their published accounts to write his guide.

Published in Bern, Switzerland, in 1711, the volume functions as both an informative narrative for Europeans curious about the New World and as a helpful guide for potential emigrants. A discussion of the climate, flora and fauna, living conditions, laws, and relations with native populations is complemented by practical advice about options for voyaging to America and recommendations of items to bring. Ochs also gives the prices of land in different areas. Labels on the beautiful, detailed map identify locations in descriptive language: "good lands" and "a pleasing valley near a lake," for example.

With the acquisition of American Guidebook, Duke became the first university library in the South with holdings of a million volumes, and only two other copies of Ochs' book were known to be in the U.S. Even today, the volume remains very rare, with only five copies held by American institutions.

Since 1950, Duke Libraries' collections have grown tremendously in size and format. They now include nearly six million volumes, manuscripts, audio-visual resources, and databases.