[Hymnal.] Die kleine geistliche Harfe der Kinder Zions… Erste Auflage. Auf Verordnung der Mennonisten Gemeinden. Germantown: Michael Billmeyer, 1803.

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Die kleine geistliche Harfe der Kinder Zions, oder auserlesene geistreiche Gesa[e]nge, allen wahren heilsbegierigen Sa[e]uglingen der Weißheit, insonderheit aber allen Christlichen Gemeinden des HErrn zum Dienst und Gebrauch mit Fleiß zusammen getragen, und in gegenwa[e]rtiger Form und Ordnung gestellt; nebst einem dreyfachen Register. Erste Auflage. Auf Verordnung der Mennonisten Gemeinden


Published by Michael Billmeyer, 1803
THE FIRST MENNONITE HYMNAL PRINTED IN AMERICA. Michael Billmeyer, 1803. First edition. Octavo (6 ½" x 4", 165mm x 102mm). [Full collation available.] 238 leaves, pp. [4] (title, copyright, 2pp. preface), 1 2-39 [1] (register), 1-3 4-412, [20] (20pp. registers). With a wood-cut frontispiece of David at his harp, colored by hand. Bound in contemporary clasped sheep over bevelled wooden boards. On the spine, five raised bands. Upper clasp perished. Rubbed generally, with some ear to the fore-corners. Some superficial cracking along the spine. Fore-edges of the first and second free end-papers and the frontispiece partly perished, with some repairs. Tanned throughout. Damp-stain to the lower fore-corner of )(-A8. Loss to the fore-edge of M2, just touching the text. Dd3 torn with a rough repair to the verso. A snippet of Andrew Jackson's fifth State of the Union (1833) laid in at K5. Fraktur-work pictorial polychrome bookplate of Abraham Clemmer manuscript to the recto of the second free end-paper. The Mennonites, an Anabaptist group founded by Menno Simons of Friesland in the Netherlands, came to American by way of Germany and the welcome of William Penn to settle in his territories in the New World. They, like the Quakers, Dunkers, Amish and other persecuted religious sects came in larger numbers throughout the XVIIIc and XIXc and settled throughout Pennsylvania, eventually spreading elsewhere on the continent (30% of the world's Mennonites now live in the U.S. and Canada). The printing organs of Germantown and its region -- the presses of Sauer the elder and the younger, the Ephrata Cloister, Leibert, Heinrich Miller etc. -- seldom confined themselves to the publications of a particular church or denomination. Billmeyer, who sometimes worked with Leibert, here prints the first Mennonite hymnal -- with 40 of the psalms printed with music in the 1573 translation of Lobwasser followed, after a second title-page (C5r), by 475 hymns composed by members of the community and organized by context (at table, at night) or by genre. This is the foundational text of Mennonite worship in the New World. To the importance of the text we can add a lovely provenance. The owner is likely Abraham Clemmer (1793-1879), who would go on to be deacon at Franconia. The ten-year-old Clemmer received a second book on the 10th of December (his birthday, perhaps); a bookplate with that date is held at the Mary Jane Lederach Hershey Fraktur Research Collection in the Mennonite Research Center in Harleysville. Clemmer was the progenitor of a musical dynasty among the Pennsylvania Dutch. The text of the bookplate reads: "Dieses Neue Ge=/ sangbuch gehöret mir,/ Abraham/ Clemmer zu, soll/Dieses Buch Verloren gehn,/ So kan [sic] mann hier Mein/ Nahmen sehn, geschrieben/ den 10ten Dezember, im Jahr/ Christi Anno 1803" (This new song-book belongs to me Abraham Clemmer; should this book go missing thus can someone here see my name, written on the 10th of December in the year of Christ the year 1803). Fraktur-work is a revival of the tradition of medieval manuscript illumination. The stylized polychrome birds and flowers are characteristic of the genre. They have a strong connection to education, reinforcing that Abraham Clemmer was young; his father (1745-1838) had the same name, but the style and the rhyming (sehn-gehn, disturbed by the lineation) do not seem appropriate to a 58-year-old. Probably this was commissioned or carried out as a gift by a teacher. Arndt-Eck 1340.
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