While Harper basked in public acclaim, the problem of physically securing the collection quickly became complicated. The arrival of Harper's wire accepting the Calvary offer caused an immediate retreat by Herr Simon. "It seems," he wrote Harper, "that there will be no more than 120,000 volumes of books and 80,000 dissertations" instead of the contracted 280,000 volumes and 150,000 dissertations. Heinrich Simon beseeched Harper for understanding, but Harper not only had his obligations to his donors, who were looking over his shoulder as his trustees, he also had seen to it that the larger figures were known across the country. Despite the awkwardness of the situation, neither side wished to withdraw. Harper needed the books and could not repudiate his own publicity, and Simon was ready to retire from business. Simon also had further cause for panic because provision for a rebate was included in the contract for all undelivered volumes 20 pfennig per book and 5 pfennig per dissertation. This provision as well as the definition of the term "volume" would be at issue for years to come.
Harper had little patience with such arcane matters as the definition of a "volume." He had less than a year to prepare the University for its opening and was carrying "a load that is fairly crushing him to earth." So Gates commented to Rockefeller as he reported on another crucial library matter that could not escape notice: "There is no provision, except students' fees, for modern books in any of the departments. The graduate students can do very little without them. The head professors are much worried on this point. The income of at least $200,000 should be temporarily set apart for this until someone endows the library."
Although both parties were apprehensive, one half of the purchase price was dispatched to agent Bloch on December 29, 1891. The remaining amount fell due in two equal parts on January 1 of 1893 and 1894. To protect the University until the questions of numbers and rebate were settled, Bloch withheld a third of the 94,100 marks from Simon. Even with this precaution, Harper remained uneasy and asked Chandler and Breasted for reassurance. Despite the exaggerated numbers, Chandler advised Harper that "it would have been a matter of unceasing regret if the opportunity had been lost" and not to walk away now from a "first-rate bargain." Thus Chandler had not only to contend with Harper's doubts, but he was also caught between Simon, who was "very tricky not dishonest, but capable of pretending to misunderstand orders," and the obsequious Bloch, who was "very fond of being authorized."
In early February, Bloch deflated the Calvary stock to fifty or sixty thousand volumes. Chandler reported to Harper:
I do not feel at all certain that Simon has any consciousness of having misrepresented anything or of having any very considerable overestimate, he would simply and with considerable plausibility say that the astounding discrepancy was due to Mr. Bloch's way of counting.... In fact, without having agreed upon a definition of the word "volume," I do not see how... we can hope for an agreement about the number.
The controversy over the numbers was temporarily put aside as Simon and Bloch prepared the books for shipment. On May 13, 1892, Bloch wrote Harper that 242 boxes containing 57,630 volumes and 39,020 dissertations were en route via Hamburg insured for 500,000 marks. Bloch implored Harper "not [to] refuse me your perfect satisfaction" by this effort. Shortly after the books arrived in late June and were placed in storage on 55th Street, just off the campus, Simon died, leaving S. Calvary and Company without direction.
By January, 1893, a temporary building for the library and gymnasium had been erected on the present site of Hutchinson Court. Its construction was one of the many expenses which put the University's budget in a precarious state, a chronic condition which persisted throughout Harper's presidency. The financial panic which struck the country in 1893 further depressed the University's finances. With deficits piling up, it took two dunning notes from Calvary to get 17,961 marks from the University in late February, 1893, less than half the amount due. To compound the confusion, Hugo Bloch decided to allegiance from the University and to become manager of Calvary. Although payment was in arrears, Calvary continued to complete and bind journals for the University.
The next dun would come on October 21 from Bloch, who demanded that $5,000 be sent within four weeks or Calvary would "be forced by yourself to take other steps." Pleading with Harper, Bloch asked, "but what can we do, if not only you do not pay, but you do not even answer our letters!" On December 7, 1893, Calvary received 23,000 marks which was to be the University's last payment.
Then, after a year of no apparent exchange regarding the books, the final round began with a warning that Calvary expected $6,000 early in 1895. Henry A. Rust had now become the University Comptroller, and a drastic change would take place in the University's dealings with Calvary. On Rust's own account: "I looked into the matter, and with such a wide difference as regards the number of books that seemed to be originally contemplated and the number actually received, that I was bewildered and unable to understand the basis upon which payments before had been made." Rust requested that Bloch submit "copies of agreements and a statement of deliveries, giving numbers and values of books, etc." because of his ignorance of the transaction.
Bloch was shocked. He wondered why Rust had asked him "all those questions" about the original transaction "whereas President Harper himself can give you the best information you would ever desire, having himself made and concluded the whole matter here in Berlin!" While submitting a statement covering the University's account, Bloch asked that the balance of 40,645 marks be paid immediately. Perturbed that it had been necessary to write Harper fifteen times, Bloch was now prepared to take legal action. Worse, he could not resist reminding Rust to "please take care that your letters are sufficiently stamped; we had nearly regularly to pay for insufficient stamping."
Rust's response at the end of February was swift and pointed. He told Bloch that the University was withholding payment but that Bloch would be advised promptly after study of the account, and that settlement would be made "of any balance that may be found to be due."
By late May, 1895, Rust's evaluation of the account and the events surrounding it was completed. He concluded that the University had overpaid Calvary 74,000 marks! Rust's accounting was simple. He looked at the original 1891 agreement calling for the delivery of 280,000 volumes and 120,000 dissertations and found that there was a shortage of 81.4 per cent for volumes and 67.5 per cent for dissertations. It was time for the lawyers. In response to a notice from Calvary's attorney that he would be compelled to "use further means," the University's attorney responded that "the commencement of legal proceedings by Messrs. Calvary & Co. will furnish the University with the desired opportunity to bring forward its large counter claim."
Harper returned to Europe in 1898 and saw Bloch. This resulted in a long, heavily underscored letter from Bloch once again summarizing the events of the past seven years. Rust sent the letter to Noble B. Judah, the University's attorney, who commented:
I feel very much complimented with your suggestion that I could possibly successfully cope with the poetry and idiom of the communication. Being only an ordinary individual much held down to the grinding unpoetic side of things, I beg leave to submit to you herewith a form of letter for Dr. Harper. I do not pretend that it is at all equal to the occasion, though I am sure it in substance represents what will be in your mind as a proper answer to the business part of the communication.
The transaction was brought to a conclusion with this exchange. Harper's Presidential Report for 1897-98 stated in its Library statistics that the Berlin Collection contained 175,000 volumes. The next year's Report modified this figure by adding "not entirely delivered." But there would be no further books from Calvary. How "175,000" was contrived is beyond recall.
As a final note to this episode, Zella Allen Dixson received a letter in 1901 from A. B. Meyer, Director of the Königliches Zoologisches und Anthropologisch-Ethnographisches Museum of Dresden. He asked how much the University had paid for the Calvary books. The question was referred to Harper, who responded by saying: "There have been some questions in dispute and I do not think it is possible at present to make a definite statement."