Thursday, May 16, 2013

Rosenbach & Huntington: "No Epilogue Nor Sequel"

My book motor runs pretty hard with plenty of gusto.  However, refueling is required from time to time.  I usually do this by re-reading a favorite book about books which rarely fails to rev up my imagination.  No less importantly, the process usually sparks my acquisition mode.  I’m currently a third of the way through Edwin Wolf & John Fleming’s Rosenbach (1960), the best biography of a bookseller, and arguably the best book on the antiquarian book trade ever written.  The subject, Dr. Abraham S. W. Rosenbach (1876-1952) was a complex figure with a book motor that can only be described as supercharged (and apparently fueled by daily infusions of whiskey).  Wolf & Fleming, former employees of Rosenbach, describe him as “an eye-twinkling, hard-selling, hard-drinking, scholarly bookman.”
          This isn’t a book review so I’ll let you discover (or re-discover) the book yourself.  Pertinent to this post is the fact that Rosenbach was instrumental in building the collection of railroad magnate Henry Huntington (1850-1927).  Rosenbach began to sell Huntington books in the early part of the century but things hit full stride from 1920 until Huntington’s death.  Rosenbach facilitated the transfer of millions of dollars of bookish delights to Huntington’s shelves.  The material ranged from Americana to English Literature to Incunabula to Portolan Atlases.  Huntington is remembered for buying entire private libraries in big gulps using a strategy akin to the building of his vast railroad empire.  This large-scale book buying strategy was driven in the 1920s by failing health and his intense desire to form a library of international stature.  Huntington set up a nonprofit educational trust before his death establishing the Huntington Library, Art Collection and Botanical Museum.  Today it is a bucket list stop for book lovers.  It mustn’t be forgotten that Huntington was an enthusiastic bookman as well, not just a check-writing philanthropist. (Even Huntington, with almost unlimited wealth, bought so many books he overheated his budget and had to sometimes use railroad bonds and/or short-term payment plans to cover purchases.  I can relate on an infinitesimally smaller scale).  He and Rosenbach when possible would pour over auction catalogues together for hours, talking books, prioritizing individual lots and establishing bids.
          This all leads me to two copies of a book in my library, Rosenbach’s Books and Bidders (1927), a classic collection of somewhat embellished but always entertaining book essays.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Last Bookshop

This is neither American Book Collecting or an insightful, entertaining bookish essay but worth a watch.  Like a classic it starts a little slow but you'll enjoy it, although it may hit a little too close to our collective bookish fears...  (by the way, can I scout this shop?).

Thanks to Lew Jaffe at Confessions of a Bookplate Junkie ( for the link.

Kurt Zimmerman