Martin Luther’s 95 Theses
The opening page of the 1517, Basel printing of Martin Luther’s ’95 Theses’ which is estimated at €150,000 at German saleroom Reiss & Sohn.

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Whether he really did affix them to the doors of churches in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, or simply had them delivered to Albert of Brandenburg, Archbishop of Mainz, is now disputed.

Whatever the truth of the matter, this year marks the 500th anniversary of that act and the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation – together with all the religious, social and economic changes that followed as it spread across Europe and around the world.

Basel Edition

That anniversary is marked by a number of lots being offered by Reiss & Sohn of Köningstein-im-Taunus in Germany in its May 16-18 auction.

‘Disputatio... pro declaratione virtutis indulgentarium’ was the first printing of the ‘95 Theses’ in which Luther attacked what he saw as the disgraceful practice of selling indulgences, payments by which those wealthy enough could pay to have their own or relatives’ sins absolved.

It appeared within a couple of weeks in Basel, Leipzig and Nuremburg, though no more than a few hundred copies were printed in all and very few have survived to this day.

The Leipzig and Nuremburg issues were printed as placards, but the Basel edition, printed by Adam Petri, appeared as a four-leaf pamphlet and it is a copy of that bookform issue that is to be offered by the German auctioneers. 

Sold in 1960 as a duplicate from the Basel university library, it was acquired then by Ferdinand, Baron von Neifforge, and has remained ever since in private hands. Its last came to auction in 1985, when Reiss sold it for DM52,000. This time it is valued at €150,000.

Passional Christi und Antichristi from 1518

A spread from the 1518 first issue of the ‘Passional Christi und Antichristi’ which is estimated at €50,000 at Reiss & Sohn.

Also offered at Reiss & Sohn is a 1520, Wittenberg first of ‘An den Christlichen Adel deutscher Nation’, Luther’s battlecry to Germany’s ‘Christian Nobility’ and the manifesto of the Reformation.

That work is valued at €10,000, but five times that sum is predicted for yet another Wittenberg imprint, a very rare first issue in modern vellum of the ‘Passional Christi und Antichristi’ of the following year.

Featuring 26 large woodcuts by Lucas Cranach the Elder and texts by Luther and his principal collaborator, Philipp Melanchthon, it presents a comparison (on facing pages) between the actions of Christ and those of his earthy representative, Pope Leo X.

Philipp Melanchthon’s Corpus doctrinae Christianae

The painted and gilt decorated binding of a 1572 edition of Philipp Melanchthon’s ‘Corpus doctrinae Christianae’ which is pitched at €75,000 at Reiss & Sohn.

Melanchthon is also represented by a 1570 Wittenberg edition of his ‘Corpus doctrinae Christianae’ in an exceptional and local Renaissance binding by Paul Droscher. It has gilt and painted decoration that incorporates portraits of both Luther and Melanchthon on the covers and is valued at €75,000.