Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2012 Issue

Rosenbach Museum Observes 100th Anniversary of the Sinking of the Titanic


Rosenbach notifies London bookseller Quaritch of the Wideners' death.

Sometime around Christmas of 1905, young Harry Widener walked into the rooms of the great 20th century bookseller, Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach. Widener was just a man of 20 at the time, a junior at Harvard. He didn't have a lot of money but his father did, his grandfather still more. His grandfather, Peter Widener, was one of the great 19th century industrialists, perhaps the leading citizen of Philadelphia. He was also a great collector. Art was his specialty, but he had some books too. Similarly, Harry's father, George Widener, collected some books among other things.

Harry, however, was totally smitten by books. After graduation, as he began to gain access to more funding (a doting mother did not hurt), Harry began to collect. He also had a purpose beyond merely possessing books himself. He wanted to found a library with a great collection at his alma mater. Visiting bookshops was one of his missions when he sailed for England in 1912. It was a successful journey, he picked up a few books, and set sail for home. He had a ticket on the Titanic.

From now through June 24, 2012, there will be an exhibition at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Harry's hometown of Philadelphia entitled, Titanic: The Rise of Rosenbach. Rosenbach was still quite young for a bookseller himself, 29, when the two met in 1905. “The Doctor,” as he was affectionately called, already had connections with some of the biggest names in collecting, but it was more as someone who sold them occasional books. For Harry Widener, Rosenbach was a mentor. He was the man who would help Harry realize his dream of building the world's greatest library for Harvard University.

Those dreams might have have sunk with the Titanic. The collection, and the plans, were still in the making. However, as previously noted, Harry's mother, Eleanor Elkins Widener, adored her son. The loss of her son (and husband) in the Titanic disaster was a tragedy of incomprehensible magnitude for her. Life could never truly be happy again, but at least it could have a purpose. Eleanor Widener had a mission, and that mission was to complete her son's dream. Harvard would have that great library Harry wanted to build, only now, it would be a memorial to him. His mother would build it. Dr. Rosenbach would be the architect of its collection.

The loss of Harry Widener was a great personal tragedy to Dr. Rosenbach. The Doctor was more than just a bookseller to his closest clients. He was a personal friend, one who shared their love of great books. Rosenbach lost both a good friend and his biggest client when the 27-year-old collector lost his life. Nevertheless, the tragedy ended up raising Rosenbach from the level of one of many booksellers to the greatest one of his time. Mrs. Widener would rely on Dr. Rosenbach to choose what books her son would have wanted for his collection, and she was willing to spend whatever it took. As Edwin Wolf's biography, Rosenbach, notes, “There was nothing she wished to do with the vast fortune which had so unhappily come to her except to build her monument in books and marble to Harry's memory. If the prices had been half what she paid, she would have been half as pleased, and would have looked elsewhere for books to buy.” Dr. Rosenbach was the man given the task of spending all that money. It was Mrs. Widener's devotion to memorializing her son that led to the Doctor's rise to the pantheon of booksellers, a reputation unfaded by time 60 years after his death. Ultimately, it also led to the creation of the Rosenbach Museum in his and his brother's memory after they died.

The exhibition at the Rosenbach Museum and Library is timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of that tragic and eventful disaster, the sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912. On April 15, 2012, there will be readings of first-hand accounts of those who experienced, or heard about, the disaster. There will also be a “conversation with the Curator” on the evening of April 5 to further explain the exhibition and answer questions. The remainder of the time through June 24 the exhibition will be open to the public during the museum and library's regular hours. The exhibit examines how Dr. Rosenbach enabled Mrs. Widener to reach her dream of memorializing her son, and how the Widener Library at Harvard in turn ensured the success of Dr. Rosenbach and his firm in the years ahead. Still, the major focus of the exhibition is that terrible day 100 years ago when the unsinkable sank, and the world was never quite the same.

To learn more about this exhibition, click the following link: www.rosenbach.org/learn/exhibitions/titanic

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Jenner (Rev. George Charles). <i>The Evidence at Large...Respecting Dr Jenner's Discovery of Vaccine Inoculation,</i> presentation copy from Edward Jenner to Rev. Rowland Hill, 1805. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Houdini (Harry).- Maggi (Girolamo). <i>De tintinnabulis liber postumus...de equuleo liber,</i> Harry Houdini's copy, Amsterdam, H. Wetstein, 1689. £600 to £800
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Meyer (Henry Leonard). Coloured Illustrations of British Birds, and their Eggs , 7 vol. in 2 plus Illustrations of British Birds, 4 vol., 1842-50 and [1835-51]. £5,000 to £7,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Dickens (Charles). <i>An Entirely New Romantic Drama, in Three Acts, by Mr. Wilkie Collins, called The Frozen Deep,</i> 1857. £3,000 to £4,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Lighthouses and Islands of Ireland, c. 125 drawings, 1867. £6,000 to £8,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Shelley (Lady Jane). Diary, 1853 & 1860. £1,500 to £2,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Scottish Binding.- The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments, bound in contemporary brown polished calf decorated with the figure of a Chinese spearman, by ?James Scott of Edinburgh, 1778. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Greene (Graham). <i>The Man Within,</i> first edition, signed by the author, 1929. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Mellan (Claude, 1598-1688). The Holy Face, or the Veil of St Veronica, [c. 1649 and later]. £800 to £1,200
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Desaguliers (John Theophilus). <i>A Dissertation concerning Electricity,</i> W. Innys, and T. Longman, 1742. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Le Jeune (Paul). <i>Relation de se qui s'est passé en la Nouvelle France en l'anné 1636 enuoyée au R.Pere Provincial de la Compagnie de Iesus en la Province de France,</i> 1637. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Stumpf (Johann Rudolph). <i>Gemeiner loblicher Eydgnoschafft Stetten, Landen und Völckern Chronicwirdiger thaaten beschreibung, </i> Zurich, Froschauer, 1586. £3,000 to £4,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> George Washington, Letter Signed to General James Clinton, preparing for the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign, 1778. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising to send reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Thomas Edison, Autograph Letter Signed, to Western Union President William Orton, 1878. $10,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> William, Bishop of Coventry, vellum charter granting the church of Rochdale to the Cistercian Abbey of Stanlaw, in Latin, 1222. $3,500 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> FDR, Photograph Signed & Inscribed, framed with wood removed from the White House roof, 1927. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Jean Dubuffet, archive including many letters written while painting in NYC, 1951-72. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Mohandas K. Gandhi, Autograph Letter Signed, describing the source of his patience, 1939. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Lithograph portrait of Albert Einstein by Hermann Struck, signed by both, 1923. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Charles The Bold, Duke of Burgundy, Letter Signed to Johann IV of Nassau, in French, 1470. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Jean Cocteau, Autograph Letter Signed, in French, 1919. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Louis Armstrong, two Autograph Letters Signed to Erich Kauffmann, his lip salve purveyor, 1965-70. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Wernher von Braun, Autograph Letter Signed to Jonathan Cross, 1975. $5,000 to $7,500.
  • <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. $80,000 to $120,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. $200,000 to 300,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. $80,000 to $120,000
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>

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