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Collection Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection

About this Collection

In 1943, at the height of WWII, Lessing J. Rosenwald (1891-1979) announced that he would donate the entirety of his graphic arts collection, as well as all future purchases, to both the Library of Congress and the National Gallery of Art. Then Librarian of Congress, Archibald MacLeish, noted the gravity of the gift and its timing. In an open letter to Mr. Rosenwald, MacLeish expressed "appreciation of [his] generous and patriotic act in transferring to the Library of Congress for the citizens of this country the magnificent and critically selected collection of books..." The Rosenwald collections came to the Library of Congress in a series of gifts, beginning in 1943 and culminating in 1980 when the entire collection was delivered to Washington after Mr. Rosenwald's death the previous year. The donation to the Library of Congress included 2,653 titles, supported by a reference library of over 5,000 books.

The Rosenwald Collection remains one of the most distinguished resources of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division. Taking the illustrated book as his central theme, Mr. Rosenwald collected books and manuscripts from the last six centuries. Virtually every book in the collection is in superb condition and many contain special features, such as original drawings, artists' proofs, trial states, and laid-in letters. The collection's greatest strengths are in fifteenth-century woodcut books, early sixteenth-century illustrated books, and twentieth-century livres d'artiste. Several books in the Rosenwald Collection are of such outstanding rarity that only a handful of copies are known. These include a volume containing four complete books by famous English printer William Caxton, eleven block books, the magnificent fifteenth-century manuscript known as the Giant Bible of Mainz, one of two known copies of the 1495 edition of Epistolae et Evangelia, called by some the finest illustrated book of the fifteenth century, and 160 excessively rare fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Dutch and Flemish books from the libraries of the Dukes of Arenberg. Mr. Rosenwald also assembled one of the finest collections of books, plates, drawings, and engravings by William Blake ever brought together. The collection has strong thematic concentrations in the history of science, typography, natural history, decorative arts, and private presses.

The digitization of the Rosenwald Collection is ongoing and the above selections represent only a fraction of the collection. New material will be added as it becomes available. For a comprehensive inventory, please see the collection catalog which describes Mr. Rosenwald's gifts to the Library of Congress between the years 1943 to 1975. Accounts of subsequent additions can be found in the division's acquisitions report of the Quarterly Journal. Of course, Mr. Rosenwald's full donation is available for consultation in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division.