Volapük Collection


Date: 1888-1891 | Size: 0.25 Linear feet


Created by the German priest Johann Martin Schleyer in 1879, Volapük ("World's Speech") was the first artificial language to gain wide spread popularity as a prospective form of universal communication. During the 1880s, Volapük clubs were formed throughout Europe and the Americas, with a particularly active center in eastern Massachussetts, however it was gradually replaced by its somewhat less elaborate rival, Esperanto. The Volapük Collection includes printed materials, ephemera, and small number of letters and postcards written in Volapük. Assembled by F. L. Hutchins of Worcester, Mass., a leading American Volapükist, the collection reflects the brief, but intense international interest in the potential of Volapük to become a lingua franca of business and a medium for exchange across borders, and it conveys some of the excitement its adherents felt at its potential.

Background note

Although the concept of an artificial international language predates the eighteenth century, it was not until the late nineteenth century that it hit its stride. The rise of nationalisms (and antinationalisms) made the period a particularly fruitful one for universal languages, beginning with the appearance of Volapük ("World's Speech") in 1879, followed by Esperanto (1887), and Ido, or improved Esperanto (1907). All three have retained devotees into the present.

The first planned language to gain any degree of success, Volapük was the brain child of Johann Martin Schleyer (1831-1912), a Catholic priest from southern Germany who claimed to have received divine inspiration to improve international communication. Benefitting from a heavily systematized grammar, a rigorously consistency, and a clear method of word formation, Volapük aimed for ease of pronunciation and spelling, monosignificance of words (each word having only one meaning), and clarity in syntax and gender. At the same time, Schleyer made every effort to capture the richness and nuance of a natural language. His efforts, to say the least, struck a chord. During the 1880s, Volapük was wildly successful at attracting adherents drawn to the utopian dream of universal communication, with estimates of over 100,000 adherents at its peak of popularity. The language was spread through the formation of Volapük clubs, which sprang up throughout Europe and the Americas, and three International Congresses were held during the 1880s to promulgate the language, the first in Germany in 1884, followed by others in 1887 and 1889.

The decline of Volapük, however, was not long in coming. After the congress of 1889, Schleyer's vehement resistance to any alteration in his original conception eroded support, and the language began a slow decline relative to the upstart Esperanto. The problems with Volapük can be traced largely to internal causes, not only Schleyer's intransigence, but the complexity of verb forms, which featured a vast number of different endings to connoting subtle shades of meaning, its overly complex grammar, and its arbitrary choice of roots that made Volapük a chore for Europeans and Americans to learn. In the years following Schleyer's death in 1912, Volapük went into near total eclipse, enjoying only a brief revival in the Netherlands in the 1930s and, until the Nazis suppressed it, in Germany, as well. Arie de Jong's revision of 1931 (Volapük pebevoböl) made some significant improvements to Schleyer's idiosyncratic system, including in verb structures, tense, and grammar, however Volapük pebevoböl never regained the popularity of its parent. By the 1960s, only a handful of speakers remained, and these mostly Esperantists seeking little more than a point of linguistic comparison.

Scope and content

The Volapük Collection consists of approximately 0.25 linear feet of printed circular letters, newspapers, pamphlets, and ephemera, with a few hand-written postcards and letters, all relating to the first flowering of Volapük during the late 1880s and early 1890s. The collection reflects the brief, but intense international interest in the potential of Volapük to become a lingua franca of business and a medium for exchange across borders, and conveys some of the excitement its adherents felt at its potential.

The Volapük Collection appears to have been gathered largely by the American Volapükist, F. L. Hutchins of Worcester, Mass., probably for an informational exhibit on the language. Hutchins was involved both in his local Volapük club (the Volapükaklub de Worcester) and in the national Volapükaklub Nolumelopik (North American Association for the Propagation of Volapük), and the collection provides a slight, but balanced view of his internationalist aims. In addition to letters from European Volapükists, Hutchins displayed a letter in Volapük from China, and newspapers, promotional and informational circulars and publications in Volapük published by American Volapük advocates from Massachusetts to Portland, Oregon. Among the more interesting materials are a set of announcements for the First Annual Convention of American Volapükists and two circular letters (folder 33) describing the progress of Volapük in North America. Although most of these periodicals are represented by only a single issue, the geographic breadth of coverage is intriguing.

The collection has been retained in the order in which it was received, despite its somewhat chaotic nature. Several folders contain what appear to be exhibit labels (the text of which is transcribed in the descriptive notes below). Except as noted, all of the materials in the collection are printed or lithographic copies, intended for mass circulation.

Collection Information


Acquired from M&S, June 1973 (accession number 1973-1167ms).

Preferred citation

Cite as: Volapük Collection, American Philosophical Society.

Processing information

Recatalogued by rsc, 2002.

Alternate formats available

The collection is completely microfilmed, Film 1319.

Separated material

A broadside was removed from the collection to the Printed Materials Department:

Volapükaklub in Leitmeritz läsevom atoso söli Hutchins F. L. (Lietmeritz, 1891). Call no.: 973 C683, no.723

Related material

Volapük Centre, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, Catalog of Contents, comp. by Brian R. Bishop (Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, 1981). Call no.: 400 Pam., no.56

Indexing Terms

Corporate Name(s)

  • North American Association for the Propagation of Volapük
  • Volapükaklub Nolumelopik
  • Volapükaklub de Worcester


  • Broadsides.
  • Circular letters
  • Postcards

Personal Name(s)

  • Creelman, G. C.
  • Hutchins, F. L.
  • Schleyer, Johann Martin, 1831-1912
  • Sprague, Charles E. (Charles Ezra), 1842-1912
  • Various


  • Languages, Artificial
  • Volapük

Detailed Inventory

 Volapük Exhibit
1889-189133 foldersBox 1
 Exhibit card
n.d.1 itemfolder 1
 World-Speech Volapük
n.d.1 itemfolder 1

"Merits adoption, Melidom lensumi": Reasons to learn Volapük

 Sprague, Charles E. (Charles Ezra), 1842-1912.
Hand-book of Volapük (N.Y.: Office Co., 1888)
18882 items: 2p. and 8p. pamphletfolder 2

Specimen pages

 Price list of Volapük Publications
n.d.4p.folder 2
 Addenda to Wood's Dictionary of Volapük
n.d.1p.folder 2

Specimen pages

  Schleyer'a literat Volapük (Konstanz: C. Okle, n.d.)
n.d.4p.folder 2
 Labob stimi nunön oli atoso dö fünam Danotabura Volapükik tedelik
18893p.folder 3

"Circular describing a bureau designed to advise as to standing of any commercial house in the world conducted through and by means of Volapük and Volapükans," Milan, Italy

 Association Polytechnique de Cannes.
...Programme des Cours
1889-18901p. circularfolder 3

"Circular showing Volapük as study in Polytechnique Association of Charenton, a suburb of Paris, Franch."

 Mehmke, R..
Nüns Gletavik (Fovot 2id)
18891p.folder 4

"Mathematics translated into Volapük for use in University of Darmstadt, Germany"

 Kittel, Hans.
Sül palestimöl e paflen!
18892p. lithograph circularfolder 4

"Circular from Volapük Club in Leipzig"

 Volapükaklub Nolumelopik (Nort.
1889-18901 folderfolder 5
ca.18902p.folder 5
 List of members
18894p.folder 5
 First Annual Convention of American Volapükists... Boston, Mass.
August 21, 22, 23, 18904p.folder 5

Announcement of Convention

 You are cordially invited to attend the Public Session of the First Annual Convention of the N.A.A.P.V.
18892p. invitationfolder 5
 Admit bearer and friends to the Volapük exhibit
18901p. ticketfolder 5
 [Invitation to dinner]
[1890]1p.folder 5
18892p.folder 5
 Volapükaklub Nolumelopik
July 21, 18901p.folder 5

Announcement of First Annual Convention of North American Volapükists.

 Danelson, James Edwin.
Circular letter concerning organizing a Volapük club in New York
August 5, 18901p.folder 6
 World-Speech Volapük
n.d.1 itemfolder 6

"Merits adoption, Melidom lensumi": Reasons to learn Volapük. See also same item in folder 1:2.

 Volapükaklub Flentänik.
I. Lovepolam in pük netik
18863p.folder 7

"Circular of French Volapük Club concerning the issuing of Diplomas"

 Post, Alfred A. (North America.
Circular letter
189-1p., 2 copiesfolder 8

Includes list of "Volapük Text-Books" on verso.

 Post, Alfred A..
The need of a comprehensive dictionary of Volapük for English students...
ca.18901p.folder 9

Circular letter.

 Sprague, Charles E. (Charles Ezra), 1842-1912.
Dictionary of Volapük...
ca.18901p.folder 9

Advertising flier for M. W. Wood's Dictionary.

 Hutchins, F. L..
Telegram to A. A. Post
February 18911p.folder 9

"Volapük telegram in use of which 7 words were saved"

 Hughes, W. J..
Li kapälol Volapüki? Works on Volapük
n.d.1p.folder 10

Litho. price list.

  Volapükabled Däna
18898p.folder 10

Danish Volapük-language periodical.

 Hughes, W. J..
n.d.1p.folder 10

Notification of magazine, Volapük

 Soprague, Charles E..
ca.18901p. postcardfolder 10

Information on the language

 Beale, Charles Currier, 1864-1909.
Volapük Headquarters...
ca.18901p. postcardfolder 10

Notice of receipt of subscription for magazine Volapük.

 Post, Alfred A..
The need of a comprehensive dictionary of Volapük for English students...
ca.18901p.folder 10

Circular letter.

 Huebsch, Samuel..
Volapük, A Guide for Learning the Universal Language
August 15, 18891p. postcardfolder 10

Notification of availability of two works on Volapük.

 What is Volapük?
ca.18872p.folder 11
 Avantages et utilité du Volapük
n.d.2p.folder 11

In French.

n.d.2p.folder 11

Extracts from newspapers on Volapük, in German.

n.d.2p.folder 11

In German.

 Zirkular Nr. 285
n.d.2p.folder 11

In German.

 Nogan Volapükik
1889-189016p.folder 12

"Organ of Volapük for Belgium and Holland published in Antwerp."

 Van Kuo T'ung Hua Tzu Tien
n.d.13p.folder 12

"Chinese Volapük Paper published in Amoy, China."

 Volapükabled Däna
18894p.folder 13

Prospectus(?), "Volapük Gazette, Organ for Denmark and Scandinavians published at Copenhagen."

 Auszug aus dem zweiten Blatte des "Essener Zeitung"... Volapük
18812p.folder 14

In German.

 Volapükaklub de Gent.
n.d.1p.folder 14
 Miscellaneous envelopes
1890-18915 itemsfolder 14

Miscellaneous envelopes from European Voluapuk clubs.

 [Item not included]
  folder 15

"Paper published in Milano, Italy"

 The Bouquet
January 1, 18912p.folder 16

Article on Volapük in popular magazine.

 Beale's Volapük Leaflets, no. 5
n.d.8p.folder 16
 Schwäbische Weltsprachezeitung
18808p.folder 17

Number 1. "Paper published in Allmendinger, Wurttemburg."

18908p.folder 17

Number 3. "Paper published at Prague, Bohemia."

18908p.folder 18

Number 25. Paper published in Munich, Germany

 Pakamabled Nedänik
n.d.6p.folder 18

Number 2. Paper published in s'Heerenhoek, Netherlands.

 Volapük correspondence
18905 ALsSfolder 19

Miscellaneous manuscript letters written in Volapük from Alfons de Cock (Belgium); R. Mehmke (Darmstadt, Germany); Winsum (Breda, Germany); A. Hullebrouck (Antwerp, Belgium); illeg. (Amoy, China)

 World-Speech Volapük
n.d.1 itemfolder 19

"Merits adoption, Melidom lensumi": Reasons to learn Volapük. Same as folder 1:2.

18888p.folder 20

Number 24, "Comic paper published in Munich, Bavaria.".

18914p.folder 20

Number 5; Volapük newspaper from Zurich, Switzerland.

 Cuyper, B. de.
May 22, 18911p.folder 21

In French, "Invitation to a musicale and to lecture concerning Volapük by Prof. J. de Hoon, Gent, Germany.".

 Gased Bevünetik
189016p.folder 22

Vol. 1, no. 5, "Published in St. Louis, Mo., USA".

 Schleyer, Johann Martin, 1831-1912.
Kurze Vergleichende Grammatik der Weltsprache (Glamat Blefik Feleigöl volapüka) (Konstanz: von Schleyers, 1887)
188712p.folder 22

"Volapük Grammars".

 Volapük. (Universal language)
18874p.folder 22

Pronunciation sheet and grammatical information

 Starck, H..
Auszug aus dem Welstracheblatte nr. 51...
n.d.2p.folder 23
 Emilie, Paul.
Liebe Freunde und Sprachkunstgenossen!
n.d.1p.folder 23
 Volapükan Melopik
18916p.folder 24

Vol. 1, no. 21 and 22; "American Volapükist published in Portland, Oregon"

 Volapükabled Tälik
18898p.folder 24

Vol. 2, no. 13; "Italian Volapük Paper, published in Torino, Italy"

 Extract from the Speech about Volapük: Advantages and usefulnes of the world-language
n.d.2p.folder 25
 Vorzüge Nutzen und Vorteile der Weltsprache / Bizugs ä pöfüds Volapüka
18902p.folder 25

Phrases in German (and Volapük equivalents) extolling the virtues of Volapük

 Sezüks se Bükots
n.d.2p.folder 25

Snippets praising Volapük, in Volapük.

 Volapükabled Zenodik
18904p.folder 26

No. 109; "Father Schleyer's own paper, 1st number of the 10th year"

 Miscellaneous postcards
1889-18918 postcardsfolder 27

Postcards, in Volapük, addressed to F. L. Hutchins and others

 Miscellaneous envelopes
ca.18908 itemsfolder 28
 Miscellaneous postcards
1889-18918 postcardsfolder 29

Postcards, in Volapük, addressed to F. L. Hutchins and others

 Souvenir of Lecture on Volapük at Trinity Church, Worcester, Mass.
April 13, 18914p.folder 29

Brief poem in English and facing Volapük.

 Calling cards
n.d.5 itemsfolder 29
 Miscellaneous envelopes
n.d.8 itemsfolder 30

Envelopes from European Volapükists.

 Miscellaneous postcards
1890-18918 postcardsfolder 31

Postcards from European Volapükists, in Volapük, including one from Paul Champ Rigot.

 Miscellaneous letters in Volapük
1889-18915 ALsSfolder 32

Manuscript letters, in Volapük, addressed to F. L. Hutchins, including one from Paul Champ Rigot.

 Zeitungs- und Brief-Auszüge über Volapük
n.d.2p.folder 32

In German.

 Söl e läd Lewis E. DeWolfe
18901p. AMsfolder 33

Manuscript poem.

 Creelman, G. C..
Volapükaklub de Worcester
n.d.1p.folder 33

In facing Volapük and English; circular letter soliciting membership

 Hutchins, F. L..
1891 folder 33
 Volapük Lifomöz
Sept. 19, 18911p. (2 copies)folder 33

In English; mimeo(?) copies addressed to members of the Volapükaklub Nolümelopik apprising them of progress in Volapük efforts.

 Circular of information concerning Volapük
July 13, 18911p. (2 copies)folder 33

In English and facing Volapük; litho. copy to members of the Worcester Volapük Club et al., providing international news on Volapük.