Rosenbach, Abraham Simon Wolf

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ROSENBACH, ABRAHAM SIMON WOLF (1876–1952), U.S. bibliophile and bookdealer. Rosenbach was born in Philadelphia. His parents, Isabella Polock, the descendant of a distinguished Philadelphia family, and Meier Rosenbach, an immigrant from Germany, were observant Jews. Rosenbach attended the University of Pennsylvania, from which he obtained a doctorate in English literature. In his college days, he became a passionate bibliophile, and when his bookdealer uncle, Moses Polock, died in 1903, he took over the latter's stock and launched the Rosenbach Company, a rare-book concern. Combining erudition with personal charm and the risk-taking instincts of a gambler, Rosenbach soon rose to national prominence in the rare-book field. Dealing primarily in first and early editions of Americana and English literature, he acquired among his steady customers such millionaire collectors as Henry Huntington, Pierpont Morgan, Carl Pforzheimer, Lessing Rosenwald, Harry Widener, Edward S. Harkness, and Henry Folger, to whom he sold a first quarto edition of Shakespeare's plays in 1919 for $128,000, reputedly one of the highest prices ever paid for a rare book up to that time. From the 1920s on, Rosenbach Company was the acknowledged leader in the rare-book trade in the U.S. and hardly a major auction took place in which it did not successfully and often spectacularly bid.

Rosenbach was a man of enigmatic contradictions. An astute businessman, he was also for much of his life a confirmed alcoholic; a person of deep Jewish interests, he lived in a permanent liaison with a Christian woman whom he reputedly refused to marry because she was not Jewish. He himself compiled a pioneer bibliographical study, An American Jewish Bibliography (1926), as well as a historical sketch of Congregation Mikveh Israel (1909), to which he and his parents belonged. For many years president of the American Jewish Historical Society, he was also a benefactor of Graetz College in Philadelphia and the Jewish Division of the New York Public Library, as well as a founder and first president of the American Friends of The Hebrew University. Among the several accounts he wrote of his adventures in the book trade were A Book Hunter's Holiday (1936) and Books and Bidders (1927). After his death, his private collection was installed in a library in Philadelphia under the auspices of the Rosenbach Foundation, which was established by his brother and junior partner Philip Rosenbach (1863–1953).


E. Wolf and J.F. Fleming, Rosenbach (1960).

[Hillel Halkin]