Early Dante Collecting

There is no record that Zahm began collecting works by and about Dante before he was sent to Rome in 1896 to serve as Procurator General for the Congregation of Holy Cross. Yet not long after his arrival he began scouring the local bookstalls for copies of the Florentine poet's magnum opus, the Divine Comedy. His interest in Dante had been inspired by the widespread American revival which had flourished since the sixth centenary of the poet's birth in 1865. Still, nothing could have prepared him for the ease with which he could obtain valuable imprints for relatively little cost. Zahm's penchant for collecting and his shrewd bargaining instincts found in Italy the ideal arena.

Zahm's reputation as book hound was notorious (Photo of Zahm among his books). In an article published by the Notre Dame Scholastic in 1946, author Jim Larrick related the following anecdote:
Father Zahm had asked permission of his superiors to buy some volumes on Dante which he had found during his travels through Italy. The permission was granted and soon rare books and bills began arriving in what seemed an unending stream. Frantically his superiors cabled Father Zahm to stop purchasing what at the time was construed to be a luxury; he was running the infant university into the red. Strangely, their cables never seemed to reach him, for they always arrived at the place where he had just been.
Although there is no evidence to support the tale, it captures well the zeal which those who knew Zahm invariably attributed to him. Even after his return from Italy, antiquarian booksellers in Rome and Florence remembered him as an avid Dantophile and periodically sent him lists of their offerings (Booksellers' receipts: A, B1, B2).

In addition to books, Zahm started purchasing sculptures from Giovanni Parsanti in Pisa, statues of Dante and Beatrice from Maison de Cluny C. Brunier in Florence, paintings from C. & A. Schwicker in Florence, and items from Moscardi, a Florentine bronze and metalworker. In one letter to his friend in Rome, Msgr. Denis O'Connell, Zahm remarked, "I am getting so interested in Dante, that I believe, if I were free, I should write a book on him, and another--small one--on Beatrice."