to "Occasional Pieces"

So, what is a lottery-book (Losbuch)?

It was used for telling the future (a bit like modern horoscopes)

In the later Middle Ages so many people were using them that the Church was moved to ban them repeatedly (along with other forms of gaming – and of course the Church still does ban them). As a result very few lottery-books have survived. The particular one on show here, drawn and painted by Konrad Bollstatter, together with another one by him preserved in Frankfurt, are amongst the few survivors. This particular one was compiled over a period of some 25 years in the middle of the fifteenth century, which suggests that Bollstatter kept it for himself as a private, favoured possession – though he did also include a warning against using them: Don’t tempt Fate with Lottery-books: …(below)

The way the lottery-book works is simple:
You start by choosing one of 16 questions – for example (below): whether or not your plans are going to work out well (q.1). Or whether a particular friend or ‘geselle’ (associate or business partner) will prove reliable (q.2). Or, more intimately, whether it’s wise to get married right now (qq.3 & 7 – most of the oracles say "yes"!).
You then throw the dice to get any number between 2 and 10 (if you throw 11 or 12, you have to throw again).
The combination of your question-number plus dice-throw provides the first stage in the lottery-book answers: You are sent to one of a series of 12 Mountains, or Rivers, or Apostles, or Birds, or Herbs, or Prophets, or Trees, etc. The appropriate mountain, river, apostle, bird, herb, prophet, tree, etc. then sends you to consult one of sixteen Kings.
Most of these Kings can be related to a modern country – France, England, Scotland, Russia, Lithuania, Prussia, Sicily, etc. – For the King of Krakow, we understand Poland. But where Terramer was, nobody knows ... About two-thirds of the oracles are provided at this stage by the relevant King.
For the remaining one-third of the dice-plus-question combinations you are sent on a further stage to one of a group of twelve ‘Foursomes’: Patriarchs, Heathen Masters, Evangelists, Hermits, Warriors, Lovers (= Minnesänger) etc.

They then give you your answer – and we hope it’s the one you wanted !

This book is over 500 years old – its prophecies cannot be guaranteed !

Want advice? – Ask Bollstatter!

  • Will those plans for that project turn out well, or not?
  • Will that associate or friend prove reliable, or not?
  • Should a widower or bachelor take a wife, or not?
  • Will that invalid recover, or not?
  • Will someone off travelling return home safely, or die en route, or not?
  • Is someone going to get richer, or not?
  • Should a single lady or widow take a husband, or not?
  • Is this the right time to stand and fight, or not?
  • Is your lover faithful, or not?
  • Are you going to win at cards, or not?
  • Is this the right time to set up a business deal – are the conditions right, or not?
  • Could that item be lost or not, or will it ever turn up again?
  • If someone is thinking of starting a relationship with the person who’s been on their mind a lot lately, would it be wise?
  • Can something be repaid, or not?
  • Will the prisoner be released, or not?
  • Will someone’s worries soon be over, or not?

Don’t tempt Fate with Lottery-books:
At first it’s fun but then it hooks.
Once you’re hooked you cannot win:
God’s mills grind slow but awful thin.

Konrad Bollstatter’s ‘real’ name was Konrad Müller, but he used several aliases, including: Conradus Mulitor, Hans Lappleder, Johannes Seydenschwanz. He lived in southern Germany half a millennium ago at the tail end of the Middle Ages. The year of his death coincided with the year of Martin Luther’s birth: 1483. He is assumed to have been born c.1425.

Of his various aliases, Bollstatter is the most distinguished – it was the name of an aristocratic family in the region of Augsburg, ‘von Bollstadt’. So (we wonder): if he was entitled to use that name at all, why did he not use it all the time? – illegitimacy has to be surmised.

Little is known of Bollstatter’s life. From lists of witnesses in legal documents it is clear that he moved around quite widely in southern Germany up to the last 15 years or so of his life; these last years were spent in the great and wealthy city of Augsburg. There are hints that he may have married an Augsburgerin but there is no surviving marriage certificate.

He earned his living as a ‘Schreiber’, i.e. a ‘clerk’, which in his case meant writing out legal and administrative documents and also, rather more prestigiously but not necessarily more remuneratively, writing out a number of well-known religious and literary texts. As many as 22 manuscripts have survived in his handwriting. Although he might have aspired to become a Town Clerk, he never did achieve that status.

Probably the biggest adventure in his life was a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. A passage at the end of one of his manuscripts recounting such a journey by another man provides some good advice to would-be pilgrims – don’t expect anybody to transport you there just for the love of God ! – and Bollstatter adds a list of minimum charges for local transport and taxes. This passage has the ring of hard-won personal experience.

With his particular gifts as calligrapher and illuminator it is likely that, if Bollstatter had been born fifty years earlier, he would have lived his life in some sort of association with a monastery.
If he had been born fifty years later he might well have tried his hand at the new, up-and-coming ‘black art’ of printing.
And if he had been born today he would certainly have felt completely at home with the newest of the black arts: ICT.

For fuller information, consult: Karin Schneider, Ein Losbuch Konrad Bollstatters aus cgm 312 der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek, München, 1973.
created: June 2001