Printed Page Bookshop
February 2021

The greatest bookseller ever?  Our vote goes to the doctor.
If writers dream of becoming Jane Austen and artists dream of becoming Vincent Van Gogh, booksellers dream of becoming ASW Rosenbach.  A century ago, Rosenbach stood at the pinnacle of the rare book pyramid, dominating auctions in the US and Europe and buying and selling items virtually unobtainable today:  Gutenberg Bibles (he bought eight of the 50-some still in existence), 30 Shakespeare first folios (of the 233 known to exist), an original printing of the Declaration of Independence, and Grant's handwritten note announcing Lee's surrender.  While he bought most of these treasures at auction and from private libraries, he also was blessed with remarkable luck:  He found a first edition of "Moby Dick" in a New England antique shop for $1.50.
Rosenbach was a brilliant scholar who had a Ph.D. in literature.  He taught briefly but left academia for the "excitement and anxiety of the chase" and "to unearth unpublished documents."  He was a master of the intellectual content and historical importance of rare books and manuscripts in many fields -- knowledge that allowed him to pounce on treasures that others missed.  He had an uncanny ability to recognize the connections that linked apparently unrelated books, and an almost occult talent at discovering Shakespeare material.  He loved rubbing elbows with the captains of industry and enjoyed the splendors of their world, counting among his customers J.P. Morgan (library shown below), Harry Henry Huntington and Henry Folger -- all of whose collections are now in libraries bearing their names.  With these people, he was charming and professorial.  
But he had another side as well.  To those he considered lesser beings he could be imperious, rude, bullying and condescending.  He ignored colleagues whom he dismissed as unworthy of his time, and scorned collectors whose resources did not equal the first rank of American bibliophiles.  He had an American brashness that offended his British peers.  He craved publicity, and he thrilled at placing exorbitant and unprecedented prices on the choicest items:  In 1947, he bought a copy of "The Bay Psalm Book" for $151,000 ($1.7 million today), then a record price.  The total of his purchases are estimated at more than $75 million.  He bragged about record prices he received, even though some of his clients preferred to keep their purchases private.  
Rosenbach popularized the collecting of American literature at a time when only European literature was considered collectible.  He also advanced the idea of book collecting as a means of investment.  
Rosenbach died in 1952.  He left a collection of children's literature -- which he inherited from an uncle and expanded himself -- to the Free Library of Philadelphia.  His former shop is now a museum.
Sources:  The Brittanica, "The Millionaire and the Bard" by Andrea Mays.


This Month's Puzzler


On January 31, 1923, this man was born in Long Branch, New Jersey. Raised in Brooklyn, he showed early literary talent, writing a 250-page science-fiction novel when he was nine years old. As a Harvard undergraduate, he continued to pursue his dream of a literary career, winning a national writing contest at age twenty.

After graduating from Harvard in 1943, he served in the Pacific during WWII. While studying at the Sorbonne after the war, he wrote a gritty and groundbreaking war novel that, after it was published in 1948, made him an international celebrity at age 25. As the years went by, he became a best-selling author who (along with Truman Capote) pioneered a new form of writing that blended the imagination of the novelist with the reporting eye of the journalist.


Greatly admired by many and deeply reviled by others, he was well known in pop culture for his colorful personal life, which included five marriages, notorious problems with anger management, and a celebrated run for mayor of New York.

In the novel "Harlot's Ghost" (1991), he had a character say:

"I never saw love as luck, as that gift from the gods which put everything else in place, and allowed you to succeed. No, I saw love as reward. One could find it only after one's virtue, or one's courage, or self-sacrifice, or generosity, or loss, has succeeded in stirring the power of creation."

Who is this author? What was the title of his 1948 novel? (Answers below)



If you're a young collector, here's a chance to win $1000
Most great collectors started when they were young, and most great collections started with a passion for a particular object or subject.  This was true of Denver collector, philanthropist and civic leader Taylor Kirkpatrick, and now he wants to inspire the next generation of colllectors through the $1000 prize bearing his name.  The rules and guidelines are surprisingly simple:  You have to be a Colorado resident, the materials have to be your own, the collection should reflect a clearly defined theme or interest, the collection can extend beyong books to, for example, maps and prints, and the collection doesn't have to consist of rare books.  You can find complete information and an entry form HERE.



Come in any Thursday, and we'll cover three of your books
We have archival dust jacket covers free for the taking on Thursdays.  We even install them, and no purchase is necessary.  

Puzzler answer

Norman Mailer.  "The Naked and the Dead." If you like our Puzzler, find more on our Facebook page)
Thanks to Dr. Mardy Grothe for the use of his puzzler.  Visit him at drmardy.com.

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