Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2003 Issue

A Collector’s Collection:The Rosenbach Museum & Library

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…A large pile of obviously very old papers was impressively arranged on the table against a background of Jacobean woodwork. The Doctor, with the usual preliminaries to such an event, food and drink, inside him, was keyed up to his role as a super-salesman. What the Doctor was attempting to sell was worthy of his mettle. It was, in effect, a whole archive of the early history of Peru, with the names of the early explorers shining in it like Inca gold. There on the table…was the bill of sale received by Pizarro for the armada of ships which he and his fellows bought from Pedro de Alvarado on August 26, 1534, for 100,000 pesos of gold. There was Alvarado’s transfer to these same explorers of his grant from Charles V to discover, conquer, and pacify the islands and coasts of the South Sea. There was the order of the viceroy of Peru in 1580 calling back the Indian runners who had been stationed along the coast to convey the news of the passage through the Straits of Magellan into the Pacific Ocean of the English freebooters under Sir Francis Drake. The collection, however, was not merely a choice handful of colorful documents by and relating to a few great figures in history; it was a mass of hundreds of documents telling the story of an epic. The soldiers, the monks, the nobles, the Indians of sixteenth and seventeenth century Peru came alive and filled the dining room with the aura of blood, iron, gold, and incense.


Skillfully, Dr. Rosenbach told Harkness of what tremendous value such a mine of source material would be to the Prescotts of the future. Reverently, he picked up a document to show him the rubric which served as a signature for Pizarro. What a treasured addition the collection would make to one of the country’s great libraries, the Library of Congress! How Mr. Harkness would honor the nation with, and be honored by the nation for, such a gift! The Doctor grew more and more eloquent, his eyes twinkling behind his spectacles, his voice cracking with excitement. “Jesus Christ, it’s the greatest lot of Americana in the world!” he finished, seeming to tremble with awe at the relics of history before him. He wiped the tears of enthusiasm from his eyes and relit the cigar he had permitted to go out in his ecstasy. “Don’t cry, Doctor! I’ll take them,” Harkness said, thinking of no other way, as had others in the same situation, of restoring Dr. Rosenbach’s equanimity. Harkness bought the lot for $550,000 [in 1928], the largest sale the Rosenbachs ever made and the largest sale of its kind, except for whole libraries, ever made in the rare book business [as of the biography’s 1960 publication date].
---Rosenbach, pp.300-301.
AT: Let me switch gears altogether after slipping in that great story. How old exactly is the Museum? When was it founded?

MB: The Museum opened in 1954, just after both Rosenbachs’ death. Our fiftieth anniversary is in 2004.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> Charles Loupot, <i>Les Cigarettes Mekka,</i> 1919. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> Plinio Codognato, <i>Cicli Fiat,</i> circa 1910. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> L.N. Britton, <i>Warning! Consider the Possible Consequences,</i> c. 1917. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> Leonardo Bistolfi, <i>Première Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs Modernes,</i> 1902. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> Leonetto Cappiello, <i>Paquet Pernot / Biscuits Pernot,</i> 1910. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> Francesco Nonni, <i>Font Meo / Acqua Minerale Naturale,</i> 1924. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> Frederick Winthrop Ramsdell, <i>American Crescent Cycles,</i> 1899. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> <i>Be a Tight Wad! Own Something!</i> designer unknown, 1925. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> Candido Aragonese de Faria, <i>Chamonix–Mont–Blanc,</i> c. 1910. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> W.E.J., <i>Irishmen Avenge the Lusitania,</i> c. 1915. $2,000 to $3,000.
  • <center><b>Trillium Antique Prints & Rare Books<br>Fine Art<br>Antique Engravings & Lithographs<br>Works on Paper<br>Accepting bids until August 7</b>
    <b>Trillium, Aug. 7:</b> Maitres Affiches by MUCHA - Papier a cigarettes Job. 202. $5,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Trillium, Aug. 7:</b> De Bry - Map of the West Indies (including Florida, Cuba, Jamaica, Bahamas, Parts of Central & South America, Sea Monsters, Ships). $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Trillium, Aug. 7:</b> Gould - Short-billed Toucan (Ramphastos Brevicarinatus). $5,000 to $8,000.
    <center><b>Trillium Antique Prints & Rare Books<br>Fine Art<br>Antique Engravings & Lithographs<br>Works on Paper<br>Accepting bids until August 7</b>
    <b>Trillium, Aug. 7:</b> Redoute, Folio - Pale Iris - Iris flavescens. 375. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Trillium, Aug. 7:</b> Gillray - Light Expelling Darkness or The Sun of the Constitution. $200 to $500.
    <b>Trillium, Aug. 7:</b> Gerard - Wild Hemp or Weed, Cannabis. 708. $150 to $450.
    <b>Trillium, Aug. 7:</b> Shaw & Nodder - Head of The Dodo. 165. $100 to $300.
  • <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Your Own Sylvia:<br>Sylvia Plath’s letters to Ted Hughes and other items,<br>Property of Frieda Hughes<br>9 to 21 July 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, 9 – 21 July:</b> Sylvia Plath. Family photograph album ("The Hughes family Album"), 1957-1962. £30,000 to £50,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 9 – 21 July:</b> Sylvia Plath. Typed letter signed, to Ted Hughes, on "my own private doctrine", with a poem, 5 October 1956. £15,000 to £20,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 9 – 21 July:</b> Sylvia Plath. Pen and ink portrait of Ted Hughes, [1956]. £10,000 to £15,000.
    <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Your Own Sylvia:<br>Sylvia Plath’s letters to Ted Hughes and other items,<br>Property of Frieda Hughes<br>9 to 21 July 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, 9 – 21 July:</b> Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. Joint autograph letter signed, to William and Edith Hughes, March 1960. £8,000 to £12,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 9 – 21 July:</b> Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Photographic portrait by David Bailey, inscribed by Plath, 1961, and another press photo. £800 to £1,200.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 9 – 21 July:</b> Tarot de Marseille. Deck of cards owned by Sylvia Plath. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 9 – 21 July:</b> Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Pair of gold wedding rings. £6,000 to £8,000.

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