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The Rarest of the Rare

The Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection stands out among the distinguished resources of the Library's Rare Book and Special Collections Division. Taking the illustrated book as its central theme, the collection's greatest strengths are in the 15th century woodcut books, early 16th century illustrated books, William Blake and 20th century lives of painters. Within this grand design the late Mr. Rosenwald sought books produced by the earliest printers and outstanding presses of later periods and books on the following subjects: science, calligraphy, botany and chess.

Gerhard Mercator, 1512-1594 Aesop's fables. German

Among the characteristics that make this collection such a rich potential resource for study are the presence of an amazing number of unique books and books of such great rarity that only a handful of copies is known. Virtually every book in the collection is in superb condition. Rosenwald's assemblage of books, plates, drawings and engravings by English artist, poet and mystic William Blake is one of the finest ever brought together. Of the 20 illuminated books described in Geoffrey Keynes's Blake bibliography, the collection contains 14, as well as duplicates and extra plates.

A selection of materials from the collection is online in "Digital Materials from the Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection."

A recent Library exhibition, "A Heavenly Craft," presents for the first time all the woodcut-illustrated books purchased by Rosenwald from the collection of C.W. Dyson Perrins (1864-1958), an heir to the Lea and Perrins fortune and another noted philanthropist and collector of early printed books and English porcelain. Perrins sold his collection of woodcut books to secure the financial future of the Royal Worcester porcelain factory. Rosenwald purchased 84 titles at this sale and was the most important single buyer. These books were printed within the first century after Gutenberg mastered the art of printing with movable type. Read more about this exhibition here.


A. Gerhard Mercator, 1512-1594. Atlas sive Cosmographicae meditationes de fabrica mvndi et fabricati figvra. Dvisbvrgi Clivorvm, [1595]. Rare Book and Special Collections Division. Reproduction information: Contact: http://www.loc.gov/rr/askalib/ask-rarebook.html

B. [Aesop's fables. German] Vita et Fabulae. [Augsburg, Anton Sorg, ca. 1479][37], xxviii [i.e. cxxviii], [15] leaves. woodcuts: illus., initials. 30 cm. (fol.). Rare Book and Special Collections Division. Reproduction information: Contact: http://www.loc.gov/rr/askalib/ask-rarebook.html