Until the November Revolution at the end of World War I, the Sommerpalais had been the summer residence of the House of Reuss Elder line. In 1919 and 1921 a deed of partition agreement and an amicable agreement were settled between the provincial government and the House of Reuss Elder line making it possible to move the princely collection of engravings and books from the Upper castle to the Sommerpalais. Thus, in 1922 the Sommerpalais opened to the public as a new museum, the »Stiftung der Älteren Linie des Hauses Reuss«. The Sommerpalais has been home to the art treasures of the Staatliche Bücher- und Kupferstichsammlung ever since. In 1975 the Satiricum was opened, a collection of caricatures of national importance.
A major part of the book collection consists of the works that Heinrich XI Reuss Prince of Obergreiz (1722–1800) started collecting at about 1747. The princely collection contains a great number of theological, historical and scientific literature as well as encyclopaedias and literary journals. There are also travel accounts, richly illustrated books, works of architecture and gardening and, above all, a collection of books from the French Enlightenment. Later on in the late 18th century, writings from the French Revolution were added.
In the early 1920s the greater part of the library of the Gymnasium Rutheneum in Gera was added to the original collection. Most of those books are early printed works and texts in Hebrew, Greek and Latin by ancient authors.
While the Sommerpalais was being restored and refurbished (2005–2011) all books were removed and have been brought back bit by bit since 2005. They are in the process of being registered in the digital catalogue of the Gemeinsamer Bibliotheksverbund GBV (Common Library Network). When this task is completed, it will be possible to identify gaps in the collection and to fill them. All in all, there about 35,000 books in the library.
The base stock of the princely collection of engravings consist of about 7,000 battle plans, maps and cityscapes, most of them dated to the 16th, 17th and 18th century. Additionally, there are other English, French, Dutch and German prints embracing a variety of techniques.
A number of English mezzotint engravings, more than 600 of them after paintings by Joshua Reynolds, a pioneer of English portrait painting in the 18th century, are the museum’s greatest treasure. They belong to the collection of the English Princess Elizabeth (1770–1840), the third daughter of King George III. She became Landgravine of Hesse-Homburg by marriage. The Princess had started collecting and engaging in artistic activities of her own during her time in Windsor Castle. Her heiress was Caroline of Hesse-Homburg, who was married to Prince Heinrich XX of Reuss; this is why the collection came to Greiz in 1848. The inheritance also contains Imperial Folio albums, for instance an illustrated history of England, an edition of fairy tales from the Rhine and Neckar rivers and a magnificent volume with illustrations by Elizabeth herself that is dedicated to Queen Elizabeth I. Princess Elizabeth mainly collected portraits; about 500 of them are now in the Staatliche Bücher- und Kupferstichsammlung.
The Staatliche Bücher- und Kupferstichsammlung has always been eager to collect more books, prints and drawings. Thus, a Chodowiecki collection, a small collection of Italian and German drawings from the late 16th to the 18th century and numerous prints and drawings of the Danse Macabre were bought.
Founded in 1975, the Satiricum is a special collection of contemporary caricatures and works by newspaper cartoonists from Eastern Germany. It is based upon a stock of historical caricatures found in Elizabeth’s inheritance and the princely collection of the House of Reuss. Most caricatures were created between the 17th and the 19th century. Furthermore, numerous coloured lithographs by Honoré Daumier and a collection of German caricatures from the German Vormärz and the German Revolution of 1848 are stored in the museum.
Satirical works illustrating contemporary everyday culture have always been collected. Satirical magazines, such as the »Simplicissimus« or the »Eulenspiegel«, as well as inheritances and donations have been continuously incorporated into the collection. All this characterises the Satiricum as a designated art museum that was awarded the title of a »Capital of caricature«, as long as the GDR still existed. The museum strives to protect this reputation. From 1980 until 1990 the Sommerpalais hosted six GDR biennales of caricature. Since 1994 this event has taken place as the nationwide triennal festival »Karikatur, Cartoon und komische Zeichenkunst« (caricature, cartoon and the art of comic drawing). All in all, the Satiricum collection consists of about 9,500 caricatures.
Exhibitions of caricatures, concerts and events take place in the Garden Salon (ground floor), whereas the old collection is presented in the Beletage (first floor). In November 2009 a reading room was set up in the mezzanine.