Occupying two brownstones in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square neighborhood, the Rosenbach is not your typical library. While its rare books and manuscripts collection is its primary attraction, it also serves as a small period house museum and displays Americana, fine arts, jewelry, Judaica, portrait miniatures, and antique furniture. It was founded in 1954 at the behest of the Rosenbach brothers, Abraham and Phillip, who built up an eclectic collection of historical treasures and sought to share them with the public. The 1866 building it occupies is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and a historical marker was dedicated to it in 2008 by the Pennsylvania History and Museum Collection. In 2013 it became affiliated with the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation.
Rosenbachs were premier dealers of rare books, manuscripts, furniture and fine
art during the first half of the 20th century and kept many of their
rarest finds in their possession. Dr.
Abraham and Phillip Rosenbach also helped build collections at Widner Library
at Harvard, the Huntington Library in California and the Folger Shakespeare
Library in Washington D.C. The Rosenbach
opened soon after Abrahams’ and Phillips’ deaths in 1952 and 1953 respectively.
museum features many original furnishings collected by the brothers and include
numerous 18th century English pieces. Their
fine china and silverware are also on display as are over 1,000 portrait
miniatures. It also includes the
recreated living room of American poet Marianne Moore from her New York City
apartment in which she lived and worked for over 40 years. The Rosenbach also has Moore’s complete
collection with personally inscribed and annotated works as well as drafts of
her poetry and unpublished memoirs.
is for the Rosenbach’s literature collection that many make the journey to the
brownstones. This rare collection
features the hand-written manuscript of James Joyce’s Ulysses, the notes and outlines from Bram Stoker as he wrote Dracula, over 600 letters written by
Lewis Carroll and a first edition of Alice’s
Adventures in Wonderland, Charles Dickens’ manuscripts for Pickwick Papers and Nicholas Nickleby, a first edition and first print of Ben Franklin’s
1733 Poor Richard’s Almanac. The Library also has in its possession
hundreds of personal letters written by George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses
S. Grant and Robert E. Lee as well as the original resolution, signed by both
houses of Congress, proposing the 13th Amendment to the Constitution
that abolished slavery.
The library also
presents rotating exhibitions and past ones have included “Catholicism in the
New World” and “Bescribbled, Nibbled and Dog-Eared: Early American Children’s
Books.” In addition to their guided
tours, the library conducts themed hands-on tours during which patrons can
actually handle some of the rare books and manuscripts. Previously themed hands-on tours have
included “Shaping Shakespeare,” “Sleuths and Spies,” and “Lewis Carroll/Charles
Dodgson.” These hands-on tours are
conducted nearly every Friday and advanced registration is highly
recommended. Finally, the Rosenbach also
hosts various reading groups such as those centered on Ulysses, Jane Austen, and Sherlock