I must admit that as I approached the Museum on that snowy February day I had little idea of what to expect. I had visited the Museum’s website and I was well aware of A. S. W. Rosenbach’s legendary status in the rare book world. Still, I wasn’t sure if, to put it bluntly, the Museum could or would live up to its reputation.
Although their collections of fine and decorative arts, books and manuscripts are both on display and the subjects of scholarly research, little is known about the objects the brothers collected for personal use. Many of their belongings remain in the collections of the Rosenbach Museum & Library: Philip’s walking sticks; A.S.W.’s eyeglasses and cigarette boxes; pen knives, compasses, and travel kits; religious materials; memberships and medals from community groups; implements for dining, drinking, and grooming.
It is not possible to know with certainty how the brothers used all of these objects or even why they acquired them. Yet, just as the authors and artists whose work the Rosenbach brothers collected set scenes for their subjects, the brothers were able to model their images through the objects with which they surrounded themselves. These objects have histories, origins, and uses that tell us about the Rosenbachs and how they presented themselves to the world through their life at home.
---From pamphlet “At Home: The Art of Daily Life on DeLancey Place,” text by Judith M. Guston, Curator, 2000.
What I found there pleasantly surprised me. It lived up to its reputation, and then some. As I toured the elegant connecting townhouses (then under reconstruction; they reopened to the public this April) and talked with staffer Michael Barsanti, I found myself transported, almost against my will, into a time when collecting books and manuscripts was an endeavor that nearly every wealthy and educated person engaged in, a time when books were sold largely based on a book dealer’s knowledge and charm and on the intellectual, upwardly mobile world that they presented to their potential customers. This world is brilliantly preserved at the Museum through a combination of period rooms, outstanding surroundings, and (most importantly of all) the various displays of books, manuscripts and other objects from the collections of the brothers Rosenbach. It is inconceivable that anyone could visit the Museum and not come away with an almost infectious feeling of excitement about the act of collecting.