The Manesse Codex, or Große Heidelberger Liederhandschrift, was produced in Zürich, Switzerland at the request of the Manesse family during the first half of the 14th century. It is the single most comprehensive source for the texts of love songs in Middle High German, representing 140 poets, several of whom were famous rulers, and it includes 137 miniature portraits of the poets with their armorial crests.
"The term for these poets, Minnesänger, combines the words for 'romantic love' and 'singer', reflecting the content of the poetry, which adapted the Provençal troubadour tradition to German. . . . The entries are ordered approximately by the social status of the poets, starting with the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI, Kings Conradin and Wenceslaus II, down through dukes, counts and knights, to the commoners" (Wikipedia article on Manesse Codex, accessed 03-09-2009)
The codex had an obscure history before it belonged to the Baron von Hohensax, and the Swiss writer Melchior Goldast published excerpts of its didactic texts. After 1657 the codex was in the French royal library (now the Bibliothèque nationale de France), where in 1815 the manuscript was studied by Jacob Grimm. In 1888 it was sold to the German government following following a public subscription headed by William I and Otto von Bismarck and placed in the Bibliotheca Palatina of Heidelberg. Today it is preserved in Heidelberg University Library.
The price the German government paid for the codex in 1888— £18,000— was the highest price ever paid for a book up to that date. The purchase price was paid to bookseller and publisher Karl Trübner who paid the money to the Fifth Earl of Ashburnham in return for 166 manuscripts, of which 99 had been stolen from French libraries by Guglielmo Libri and sixty-six had been stolen from the Bibliothèque nationale de France by Jean-Baptiste Barrois. This deal, which cost the French library £6000 plus the Codex Manesse, had been accomplished largely by the determination and industry of the adminstrative director of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Léopold Delisle, who by painstaking research over more than twenty years had proven Libri's and Barrois's thefts of the manuscripts, and had lobbied effectively for their return to France.
In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the Codex Manesse was available at this link.
Of particular interest for book history is the portrait of Reinmar dictating poetry on folio 323. The poet dictates to a notary who records the poems on wax tablets. A woman sits opposite the notary writing down the text on a roll draped across her lap—a depiction of writing in the medieval roll manuscript format, of which very few examples have survived. It is also a record of the use of wax tablets at this relatively late date.
Rouse & Rouse, Authentic Witnesses. Approaches to Medieval Texts and Manuscripts (1991) 23, and plate 5.