Friday, September 25, 2015



The Rosenbach Museum and Library was founded in 1954 in honor of the two brothers, Dr. A. S. W. (1876-1952) and Philip (1863-1953) Rosenbach. They were famous collectors and dealers in rare books, manuscripts and decorative arts. It is housed in an 1860's brownstone townhouse complete with a beautiful garden. This became a National Library Landmark through the work of the Friends of the Libraries, and in December, 2013 it became a part of the system called The Free Library of Philadelphia, yet maintaining its brownstone location.  Dr. A. S. W. had donated 816 children's books to The Free Library in 1947. In 2014 The Free Library produced a Rosenbach children's exhibit: "Bescribbled, Nibbled, and Dog Eared - Early American Children's Books." There are 30,000 rare books and 300,000 manuscripts here with a vault next door for overflow.

Nineteen of the FABS Book Tour members gathered in the lobby of The Rosenbach Museum and Library, where we were met by Steve Bartholomew, volunteer, and Derick Dreher, Director. (Elizabeth Fuller is the main librarian.) It was before the hours that they are open to the public. Sunday morning, 10:50 am, and we were ready for our up close and personal tour. We were led into the Portrait Gallery. The brothers had a strong passion for documenting American history and helped many collectors build varied collections (Folger and Huntington, etc.). They also lived in this house for three years where Philip had a knack for arranging everything. The portraits, many 18th and 19th century art, are here, very nicely arranged. It is mainly the Gratz family, famous collectors and supporters of the book arts. Rebecca Gratz and her brother Benjamin were painted by Thomas Sully in 1831. A second portrait of Rebecca has her wearing patent leather cuffs, the latest fashion. Michael Gratz, the father, was a trader in wholesale art.  Another family member, Solomon Gratz, was painted by Stuart. Joseph Gratz (1785-1858) was painted by G.A.Healy. Rachel Gratz's large book case appears with her private library still intact. Benjamin, who found his wife Moriah through advertisement, had her portrait done twice within a few months by Thomas Sully. In a different room is Philip Rosenbach's portrait, complete with a book, glass of scotch, and a good smoke. It hangs pleasantly looking over the books he collected.

At one point the brothers began collecting early British and American authors and poets as well as British and American history. Dr. A. S. W. had a rating system:Rare, Damn Rare, Damn Damn Rare. One such author led to collecting other authors related in some way. At the time Vampyres were popular. So Mary Shelley (1797-1851) aka Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, aka Mrs. Percy Bysshe Shelley, wrote a book titled "Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus" published in three volumes, 1818. She had known George Gordon Byron (Lord Byron) who had an 1816 publication of a short story casting himself as the vampyre, Dr. Rhuthven, (Dracula). And when Byron decided to leave England, his publisher hired a Dr. Polidori (wanna-be author) to accompany him and write a diary of the journey. Polidori discovered Byron's short story and "borrowed" Byron's theme (Byron did not care.), and it got published in a magazine, then a play, and then an opera. That year there was a gloomy, depressing summer (the year without a summer), tempers flared, and Byron and Polidori split (Sept of 1816).

We move ahead to 1897, and Irish author Bram Stoker, becomes interested in vampires and writes the novel "Dracula." All of these previous events, stories, books, weave together in an exciting tale. Therefore, mark your calendars: 2017-2018 there will be a large Frankenstein and Dracula Exhibit here, using manuscripts, notations, and much more. The "Dracula" book is yellow cloth while the dust jacket has an interesting design, so the dust jacket will go on a blank book so you will get the full impact of the book…alongside will be Stoker's notations and manuscript. In fact, he hand-wrote the story, and even had a calendar set up for each character with a time-table. "Saw ch. 26: Stratford Hotel….paper (Phil)"….dozens of these sort out his masterful creation, the bestseller, "Dracula."

Children's books were certainly a big item for the brothers to collect. Lewis Carroll wrote "The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland" in 1865, 150 years ago. It was published in London by McMillan with wood engravings by Robert Tenniel. However, the engravings did not come out right, and the books were to be destroyed, but instead they were shipped off to the United States where the title page was torn off and replaced, and then sold to us. There are 600 letters in Charles Dodson's hand (Lewis Carroll) in this library. The first edition 1866 was signed and inscribed to Mary and Bessie (This was Carroll's own desk copy.) The real Alice came upon hard times, and was forced to sell her copy along with almost everything she had. It came up for auction and Dr. A. S. W. Rosenbach bought it for $75,000 in 1928. He was then known as "The Man Who Bought Alice." The book has been lent to the British Library for the "150th Anniversary of Alice." It will return to the Morgan Library for a summer exhibition of "Alice," and will return here for The Rosenbach "Down the Rabbit Hole - Celebrating 150 Years of Alice In Wonderland" - October 14, 2015 to March 27, 2017. The original Alice did stop by to see the Rosenbachs at one point. They served her tea, and she proceeded to thank them profusely for saving her financially through buying the book. The chair where she sat is in this house, a true place of honor for the muse of one of the world's most favorite children's books.

This library has so many first editions, many signed, and many are complete authors' sets of bindings and printings, some with original handwritten manuscripts.

Thank you so much for a wonderful Sunday morning. It was "church" for many of us who felt blessed that we were given this privilege. Thanks to the entire staff for leading us through these rare treasures, and thanks to the Rosenbachs! What a way to end a FABS Tour.  Thank you Philobiblon Society, Bruce and Kiley. Damn, Damn, Rare!!! 

It has been a pleasure documenting this for the FABS Tur 2015. My notes were not totally complete and I do not claim to be writing this for my doctoral thesis, use those red pens when you have to.  Thanks to David Archibald for lending me his refillable pencil. After doing this I just might go back to doing limericks next year when I see you in California!

Joan Knoertzer, Book Club of Detroit, Florida Bibliophile Society, Miniature Book Club, Clements Library of Americana

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