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Hellmut Emil Lehmann-Haupt ( 1903-1992 )

Bibliographer and rare book expert Hellmut Lehmann-Haupt was born in Berlin, Germany in 1903. The son of a history professor at the University of Berlin and a playwright, his interest in books developed from an early age. He attended the Universities of Berlin and Vienna before completing his PhD. in early book illustration at the University of Frankfurt in 1927. He worked for two years as a junior curator at the Guttenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany before immigrating to the United States in 1929.

Lehmann-Haupt worked for Encyclopedia Britannica for a short time before accepting a position as curator of rare books at Columbia University. In 1939 he was given the additional role of assistant professor of book arts at Columbia’s School of Library Service. At this time he was also a visiting lecturer at Smith College and at the University of Illinois, and held positions at Marchbanks Press and the Morgan Library.

From 1944 to 1945, Lehmann-Haupt served as Deputy Chief of the German policy desk at the Office of War Information in London. In 1945 he joined SHAEF in Germany as part of the Information Control Division. In 1946 he began his work with the MFAA in Berlin. Charged with rejuvenating the cultural scene in Germany, he befriended numerous German artists who had been regarded as “degenerate” under Hitler’s regime. Lehmann-Haupt assisted artists such as Max Kaus, Karl Schmidt-Rotloff, and Karl Hofer in reestablishing themselves in the post war years. He also studied what effects such stringent Nazi control of the arts had on society, and was the first to analyze and classify the records of the SS Ahnenerbe, which revealed the extent of Himmler’s archaeological activities in Poland and the USSR. The subject was also explored in his book, Art Under a Dictatorship (1954).

After his return to the United States in 1948, Lehmann-Haupt began work as a bibliographical consultant to H.P. Kraus & Co, the leading rare book dealer at the time. There, he gave expert advice on medieval incunabula and sold books to American library collections until 1968.An accomplished author in his own right, Lehmann-Haupt wrote hundreds of titles, including The Book in America (1939), a history of publishing in America. He was also a bibliographical lecturer at the Pratt Institute from 1954 to 1955 and a research associate at Yale University from 1965 to 1967. In 1969, he began teaching at the University of Missouri, where he was named professor emeritus upon his retirement in 1974.

Hellmut Lehmann-Haupt died in Columbia, Missouri on March 11, 1992. His papers are conserved in the archives of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.