Selected Special Collections
The Lessing J. Rosenwald
The illustrated book, fifteenth through twentieth centuries
The Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection stands out among the distinguished
resources of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division. Taking the illustrated
book as its central theme and containing books from the last six centuries
and manuscripts from the three preceding, the collection's greatest strengths
are in the fifteenth century woodcut books, early sixteenth-century illustrated
books, William Blake, and twentieth-century livres des peintres. Within
this grand design the late Mr. Rosenwald sought books produced by the earliest
printers and outstanding presses of later periods, and books on the following
subjects: science, calligraphy, botany, and chess. The catalog describing
the collection published in 1978 contains 2,653 entries, many for books represented
by more than one copy.
Among the characteristics which make this collection such a rich potential
resource for study are the presence of an amazing number of unique books
and books of such great rarity that only a handful of copies is known. Virtually
every book in the collection is in superb condition and many contain such
special features as original drawings, artists' proofs, trial states, and
laid-in letters. Mr Rosenwald's assemblage of books, plates, drawings, and
engravings by William Blake is one of the finest ever brought together. Of
the twenty illuminated books described in Geoffrey Keynes's Blake bibliography,
the collection contains fourteen, as well as duplicates and extra plates.
Finding that the Blake materials received more use than any other section
of the collection, Mr. Rosenwald made copies of many of the illuminated books
available to the Trianon Press for a series of facismiles.
Outstanding rarities include a volume containing four complete books printed
by William Caxton, England's finest printer; eleven block books; the magnificent
fifteenth-century manuscript known as the Giant Bible of Mainz, kept on permanent
exhibit in the Library's Great Hall; and one of two known copies of the 1495
edition of Epistolae et Evangelia, called by some the finest illustrated
book of the fifteenth century. Rarities are, however, but one aspect of the
collection. It particular importance arises from the quantity and unity of
the material. much of it still awaiting scholarly investigation. Before being
purchased by Mr. Rosenwald, the 160 fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Dutch
and Flemish books from the Dukes of Arenberg had been inaccessible to generations
of scholars and bibliographers.
The collection catalog describes Mr. Rosenwald's gifts to the Library of
Congress in the years 1943 to 1975. Accounts of subsequent additions can
be found in the division's acquisitions report of the Quarterly Journal.
During Mr. Rosenwald's lifetime the collection was housed in his private
gallery, the Alverthorpe Gallery in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. Not long after
his death on June 24, 1979, the collection was brought to Washington and
is available for consultation in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division.
The division houses a card catalog containing author entries for the books
and manuscripts in the collection.