The Rosenwald Collection is considered the premier collection of its kind in the United States. Lessing J. Rosenwald, chairman of Sears Roebuck Company from 1932 to 1939, formed the collection over a period of nearly 40 years. He gave the collection to the Library of Congress in a series of gifts, beginning in 1943, with the final installment coming after the collector’s death in 1979. It consists of 2,653 titles documenting the history of book illustration and bookbinding over six centuries.
The Rosenwald Collection contains some excellent examples of medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts, a large collection of 15th-century block books, and some of the finest illustrated books printed before 1500. The collection of early printed woodcut books is its major strength. This group includes the finest examples of the art as executed by German, Italian, French and Dutch artists from the late 1460s to 1550. This material was the subject of a Library exhibition and a companion book, “A Heavenly Craft,” that can be purchased from the Library’s Sales Shop.
The collection is also rich in 17th-century illustrated books on science and architecture; 18th-century French illustrated books, many with original drawings; the finest collection of illuminated books by William Blake outside Great Britain; 19th-century books illustrated with lithographs; and 20th-century livres d’artistes, which are illustrated with images by Braque, Picasso, Rouault and many other major European artists from the period. The focus of the collection is Western Europe, with emphasis on imprints from Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Great Britain and the Low Countries.