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Monday, January 30, 2017

5 Questions with Amy Herman

A series of informal, intimate talks given by literary and cultural luminaries, In Conversation with the Rosenbach delves into fascinating histories, intellectual curiosities, and inspiring ideas. Each program offers the audience a chance to join the conversation after the talk and share their own thoughts and questions. Join us February 2 as art historian Amy Herman teaches us to look more closely at the world and recognize the most pertinent and useful information in any scene.
Amy Herman
Rosen-blog: You have degrees in international affairs and law as well as art history. What led you toward an education and ultimately an occupation in the arts?

AH: I cannot overstate the value of a liberal arts education. The ability to communicate with clarity and precision has been the cornerstone of my professional life. My work in the arts is grounded in a love of art history. I have always had a special appreciation for visual art and found a way to combine visual analysis and legal analysis to create The Art of Perception.

RB: Your organization, The Art of Perception, Inc., conducts visual intelligence courses for professionals in a wide range of fields including law enforcement, medicine, education, and the military. You must have a lot of fascinating stories from your sessions; are there any great teaching moments you can share?

AH: Yes. About three years ago, a homicide detective told me that they had a puzzling case on their hands. A victim was found with no identification and they were looking for clues that might give insight into her whereabouts before the crime was committed. He said that my course instilled the importance of small details that are hiding in plain sight. He looked at the victim more closely and noticed a new and fresh matching manicure and pedicure. It led the investigators to look farther away from the scene where she was found and to the closest salon where she was identified. From there, they traced her path to the salon and eventually apprehended the killer. All from noticing a manicure and a pedicure. As one intelligence analyst once said to me, “You really opened my eyes. The problem is, I didn’t know they were closed.

RB: In interviews, you mention taking said professionals to art museums to get them out of their everyday environments in order to practice the art of perception. What other lessons might museums of fine and decorative arts hold for the average visitor?

AH: Museums offer the perfect opportunity not only to change the physical environment but to distance ourselves from our digital screens. Technology is invaluable but it is incredible what you can see with your own eyes when you turn the screens off, even for an hour.

RB: Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to talk about?

AH: Fox Studios have purchased my book, Visual Intelligence, and hopes to make a crime series for television this year. It is very exciting but I never imagined that my work in The Art of Perception would have ever been adapted for television.

 RB: What is your favorite book or object in the Rosenbach collection?

AH: I love the Marianne Moore collection. In particular, I have seen a photograph of the poet throwing a baseball at a Yankees game. I find images that bring together unlikely alliances to be thought provoking and eye opening. Her suit, hat, and almost other worldly expression juxtaposed with the familiar images of baseball is just exquisite. It is the collision of two worlds in a visually compelling photograph.

Bob Olen. Photograph of Marianne Moore throwing out the first ball at Yankee Stadium season opener. 1968. [Moore XII:D:12. 2006.7590.]

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Dr. Rosenbach and the songs of Robert Burns

This guest post is an excerpt of  “Dr. Rosenbach, Robert Burns, and The Interleaved Scots Musical Museum:  Song Collection and Bibliophilia” by Steve Newman, Associate Professor of literature at Temple University. It's always exciting for us to read about the discoveries made by researchers! To make an appointment in our reading room, visit our Research page.

Robert Burns devoted much of the last decade of his tragically brief career—he died in 1796 at the age of 37—to collecting Scottish songs for two multi-volume songbooks, The Scots Musical Museum, (1787-1803) and A Select Collection of Scottish Airs (1793-1818).  The Scots Musical Museum (herefater, SMM) is generally held to be the more valuable of the two, an indispensable collection of traditional Scottish music and the place where many of Burns’ most celebrated poems can be found:  “Ae Fond Kiss”; “A Red, Red Rose”; “Bruce’s Address to his Army” (“Scots Wha Hae”); “Comin’ Through the Rye”—and that’s just from A, B, and C!  

Alexander Nasmyth. Portrait of Robert Burns. 1787. Collection of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

The Rosenbach is home to manuscript versions of many of these songs, itself part of one of the best Burns collections in the world.  But I’d like to focus on a text that is no longer at the Rosenbach but which passed through A. S. W. Rosenbach’s hands more than once.  Called the interleaved Scots Musical Museum (hereafter, iSMM), this text contained many pages of notes from Burns himself, discussing how he came across the verses and/or the tune, his opinion of them, how he has altered them, etc. 

How did A.S.W. Rosenbach get a hold of this invaluable insight into Burns’ song collecting? Here is what I have been able to reconstruct by consulting the various records of the Rosenbach Co., with the expert help of Elizabeth Fuller, librarian at the Rosenbach:

      May 18, 1910:  The Philadelphia industrialist John  Gribbel purchases iSMM from Rosenbach, along with a first edition of Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard for $9000
      October 30, 1940:  Rosenbach buys iSMM at auction of John Gribbel’s library for $15,500
      December 8, 1947 [image below]: Rosenbach buys iSMM at auction of John Bancker Gribbel’s library for $3500
      December 13, 1947: Rabinowitz purchases iSMM from Rosenbach for $3500
      August 19, 1952: Rabinowitz transfers the volumes to Rosenbach
      1964:  The Burns Birthplace Trust buys iSmm from Rabinowitz in £5500

From the Rosenbach Company papers. Object reference number to come.

You may notice the rather remarkable drop in price from 1940 to 1947, and on this hangs a tale.  Rosenbach had identified the iSMM, which Gribbel had bought from him 37 years prior, as one of the choice objects he would bid for on behalf of Arthur Houghton (who endowed the Houghton Library). But when it came up for bid in 1940, Rosenbach and Houghton were shadowed by a rival bidder they did not know and who would not reveal his name.  He drove Rosenbach to a winning bid of $15,500, well past his expected limit of $8000, as you can see from the image from the catalogue.  When the same thing happened with Alice in Wonderland, the other target Rosenbach had identified, Houghton, suspecting chicanery, refused to pay for the Burns and “cancell[ed] his bids for the rest of the sale” (Wolf 486-87).  It turns out the rival bidder was Gribbel’s own son, John Bancker Gribbel; but he was not trying to plump his own inheritance by bidding up his father’s estate.  After the auction he bought the interleaved Scots Musical Museum from Rosenbach, much to Rosenbach’s relief, we assume, given Houghton’s abandonment of him.  When Gribbel fils died in 1947, Rosenbach bought the volumes yet again, though this time at the much-reduced price for $3500, apparently on behalf of Louis M. Rabinowitz, who purchased it a few days later.  Rabinowitz then transferred the volumes back to Rosenbach in 1952, perhaps trying to sell them; but they seemed to not have found a buyer because in 1964, the Burns Birthplace Trust repatriates the volumes. 

The mysterious rival, the patriarchal sub-plot, the wildly fluctuating prices—these various narrative wrinkles are sparked by the promise of furnishing the purchaser with 3000 words of Burns’ own handwriting, as advertised in the 1940 and 1947 catalogues, “Burns’ own criticisms, and not attributions to him by contemporary or later critics” as well as the mss. of many poems, with “Auld Lang Syne” as the jewel.  We can see a similar juxtaposition in “The Napoleon of Books,” a New Yorker column on Rosenbach from 1928: 

Suddenly you realize this book business is rife with intrigue. It has its princes, its angels, its hangers-on, even its stool-pigeons and double-crossers.  Somebody has discovered a Tamerlane.  Who? Where?  Worth fifteen thousand dollars if a cent.  Dr. R. sits unmoved.  His florid, smooth poker-face gives no sign of shock.  Yet at the moment he may be searching the world over—through foreign agents—for such a volume.  Now the conversation turns perhaps to Bobbie Burns.  By the way, would you care to see some original Burns manuscripts?  You descend to the basement, into a small vault, lined with the rarest of rare books, six million dollars’ worth of them.  Doctor Rosenbach holds up some foolscap. There before you is the warm handwriting of Burns, as alive as the day it was penned. (26)

Dr. Rosenbach’s enthusiasm for Burns humanizes his inscrutable and unflappable visage, and his six million dollars is re-valued and Burns’ labor magically unalienated by the bodily presence of his handiwork. 

Rosenbach’s biographer notes that Rosenbach begins “pric[ing]” his Burns texts “at a figure beyond any realized peak and way beyond the later dip” (Wolf 210).  He goes a step further in the catalogue he puts together in 1948; none of the items has a price because the purchaser will have to buy it “as a whole” (Foreword 5).  By possibly putting his Burns manuscripts out of the reach of the market, Rosenbach can continue to enjoy unmolested his experience of “read[ing] and reread[ing]” poems in “the poet’s own hand” (Books and Bidders 163).

As we come around yet again to Burns’ birthday on January 25th and the Burns Night Suppers that will toast his “immortal memory” all around the world, we are very fortunate to have such a trove of Burnseana in Philadelphia, thanks to the keen eye of Dr. Rosenbach.

Interleaved 'Scots Musical Museum' 4 volumes annotated by Robert Burns. Edited by James Johnson. Edinburgh: Johnson & Co, 1787. Collection of the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum [3.3009.a-d].

Works Cited

Burns, Robert.  The Letters of Robert Burns, ed. G. Ross Roy and DeLancey Ferguson. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985. 
Carruthers, Gerard. “Burns and Publishing.” The Edinburgh Companion to Robert Burns. Ed. Carruthers Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009. 6-19. 
---. “Robert Burns’s Interleaved Scots Musical Museum: A Case-Study in the Vagaries of Editors and Owners.”  Essays and Studies 66 (2013).  78-96. 
Rosenbach, Books and BiddersThe Adventures of a Bibliophile.  Boston:  Little Brown and Company, 1928. 
---. Foreword. Robert Burns  1759-1796:   A Collection of Original Manuscripts, Autography Letters, First Editions and Association Copies. Philadelphia and New York:  The Rosenbach Company, 1948. 3-5.  
Strakosch, Avery.  “The Napoleon of Books.” The New Yorker.  April 14, 1928.  25-28. 

Wolf II, Edwin with John Fleming.  Rosenbach:  A Biography.  Cleveland and New York: The World Publishing Company, 1960.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

5 Questions with Allison C. Meier

A series of informal, intimate talks given by literary and cultural luminaries, In Conversation with the Rosenbach delves into fascinating histories, intellectual curiosities, and inspiring ideas. Each program offers the audience a chance to join the conversation after the talk and share their own thoughts and questions. Join us January 26 to hear Hyperallergic writer Allison C. Meier recount the surprising story of a neighborhood movement to save the Camperdown elm in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park--headed by poet Marianne Moore.

Allison C. Meier
Rosen-blog: How did you first come across the story of Marianne Moore and the Camperdown Elm?

Allison C. Meier: When I first moved to New York in 2009, I was short on money, so I spent a lot of time just walking the city to explore. Prospect Park is vast, over 500 acres, but there was one tree that caught my eye: this strangely contorted Camperdown Elm. And on its protective fence is a plaque from the NYC Parks about Marianne Moore and how her efforts helped save it in the 1960s. Later, I had the chance to research the story while writing about local history for Brooklyn Based.

Photo courtesy of

RB: Marianne Moore concludes her poem about the Camperdown Elm with the words "We must save it. It is/ our crowning curio." From what you've read about the movement to preserve the tree and park, could you elaborate on what she might have meant by that?

ACM: Moore always loved the most curious examples of nature for visuals in her poems, whether the pangolin, jerboa, or octopus. She rarely used, say, a squirrel or something more familiar. The Camperdown Elm, being a rare grafted specimen from the 19th century, is certainly one of Brooklyn's "crowning" natural oddities. I think its age, and striking appearance in a park that was then in rather bad shape preservation wise, was something that she thought deserved attention.

RB: You occasionally give cemetery tours in New York. Any good stories about writers or artists buried there?

ACM: There are so many, it's hard to narrow it down. I think what's most interesting is that often the artist's grave is very humble in comparison to their legacy. For instance, Piet Mondrian is buried below a small granite monument in Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, that is much less trafficked than his "Broadway Boogie Woogie" painting in MoMA. Robert Mapplethorpe's photography is wildly popular now, yet his grave in Saint John Cemetery in Queens is barely known. Likewise, Thomas Crawford, who sculpted the 19.5-foot-tall "Freedom" statue on the dome of the United States Capitol, doesn't have a marker at all in Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery. However, there is growing attention to these artists' graves, and Green-Wood is planning to honor Crawford with one of his own marble sculptures. Something that is important to me in giving these tours is just remembering these people as people, and considering this final resting place in their legacy.

RB: You've carved such a fascinating niche for yourself as a history writer and cemetery tour guide. Did you ever consider other careers?

ACM: I've actually had quite a few careers! My first job out of college was as a development coordinator in an Oklahoma City art gallery, then I taught English as a language assistant in France. I temped all over when I first arrived in New York, until I landed a job in higher education communications. That I'm able to support myself with my passions is actually a rather recent thing, and I'm proud that I was able to stick with it over the years and find this niche. Who knows, maybe this isn't my last career, there is so much to explore.

RB: What is your favorite book or object in the Rosenbach collection?

ACM: Definitely Marianne Moore's tricorne hat!

George Platt Lynes, Portrait of Marianne Moore. 1953. 2006.6022.

Friday, January 20, 2017

#ColorOurCollections 2017

We are delighted to participate in #ColorOurCollections week, February 6-10, 2017! We love any occasion for art and literature lovers to look as closely at our collection as we do. Download and enjoy--and if you post any snapshots of your colorations online, don't forget to include #ColorOurCollections and tag us--@RosenbachMuseum on Facebook and Twitter, @TheRosenbach on Instagram.

As it happens, we already have some pages out in our lobby for visitors to color in. These are enlargements of some of the beautiful bookplates in our Art of Ownership exhibition. Click the image to view the full-sized file; right-click the full-sized file and select "Save Picture As" to download.

Did you know that coloring books have been around in some form since at least the 1880s? It's only fitting, then, to share a few illustrations from some of the beloved late-nineteenth-century books in our library:

We can't wait to see these objects from our own collection, not to mention the collections of other participating libraries, filled in with the colors of your imagination.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Festival of St. James

Awhile ago I came across this charming drawing by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which was included in the biography of the bookseller and bibliophile Sylvia Beach.

From Shakespeare and Company by Sylvia Beach

Sylvia Beach owned and operated Shakespeare & Company, an English-language bookstore in Paris which played a critical role in the development of many key literary figures in the early twentieth century. Beach published James Joyce's Ulysses in novel form in 1922, despite the obscenity charges its earlier serialized publications had incurred. Beach befriended a young Ernest Hemingway and lent him books as he wrote his first novel. And she and her partner (depicted in Fitzgerald's drawing as mermaids on either end of the table) occasionally invited their literary and artistic friends to dinner. On this fateful night in 1928, a young Fitzgerald was starstruck by his idol James Joyce (depicted here as a floating head with a halo as well as his signature glasses and moustache). Like many of his Modernist peers, Fitzgerald considered the older authors' novels truly ground-breaking and original; Fitzgerald has depicted himself kneeling humbly next to Joyce in this sketch. This may just be artistic license, but it may well have been true to life: Joyce's biographer Herbert Gorman reports that Fitzgerald did indeed drop theatrically to his knees and said to Joyce, "How does it feel to be a great genius, Sir? I am so excited at seeing you, Sir, that I could weep."

I've been thinking about this story today, the anniversary of James Joyce's death. For Joycean scholars or celebrants like ourselves, there are many important dates close together: the publication of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man on December 29, Joyce's death date today, and his birthday February 2. But today happened to coincide with one of our early meetings to plan this year's Bloomday event--a real-life Festival of St. James, if there ever was one. But while Fitzgerald pictured Joyce as a bodiless angel, our own discussions of how to celebrate Joyce on June 16 reveal many different perspectives on the man and his work. For some, Bloomsday is an all-day immersion into the love of language; for others, a convivial gathering of neighbors on a beautiful street. For scholars, the work might be a rich mystery (in the religious sense) to ponder and exegete; for Philadelphians with strong Irish roots, perhaps an opportunity for national pride and history.

When I wrote about Fitzgerald's hero worship for the Free Library blog, I admired his multimedia enthusiasm for the established writers of his era (he also danced for Joseph Conrad). I added, "Some books are too good to only be read." For me, that's the point of Bloomsday: some books should not just be read but shared, maybe even performed, and toasted to.

Whether you celebrate the Festival of St. James today or with us on June 16, or even if you just find yourself some time alone with a book this weekend, may you read something you admire as much as Fitzgerald admired Joyce!

Friday, January 06, 2017

Scams in Austenland

Sense and Sensibility was the first of Jane Austen's novels to be published. Released in 1811 by Thomas Egerton, Sense and Sensibility—along with three other novels during Austen's short lifetime—was published anonymously.

Ostensibly London: T. Egerton, Whitehall, 1811.
This humorous first novel by "A Lady" had a higher-than-normal print run of 750 copies, and those sold out by 1813, prompting a reprint. The rights to Sense and Sensibility and Austen's other novels were purchased in 1832 by a publisher named Richard Bentley, and these popular novels have remained in print ever since.

The first-edition title page pictured above resides in a beautiful three-volume set of books with agate marbled endpapers.

But this edition hides a secret. The first-edition title page hides a later edition of Sense and Sensibility; small differences in print production such as typeface or paper stock reveal the secret. At some point in the life of these books, a cunning dealer pasted in a title page from a first edition book to raise its value for collectors.

Here is a short video with Rosenbach director Derick Dreher, displaying this bibliographic mystery in the rare book library.

Speaking of Jane Austen, we are having another Reading Group to explore her work starting in February. Led by the indomitable Edward G. Pettit, this group will read Northanger Abbey, an early novel that was not published until after Austen's death. It's very funny and sharp-witted, paying homage to the gothic novels that Jane Austen read as a girl--the main character reads Udolpho, the quintessential gothic romance--while simultaneously poking fun at them.