High Spots in Human Progress
Ohio’s Stuart Rose may lack a Gutenberg Bible, but little else By Nicholas A. Basbanes Nicholas A. Basbanes is the author, most recently, of On Paper: The EVERYTHING of Its Two Thousand Year History (Knopf, 2013). His other books include About the Author, Editions & Impressions, A World of Letters, A Gentle Madness, Every Book Its Reader, Patience & Fortitude, Among the Gently Mad, and A Splendor of Letters.
Those who say that acquiring books on a grand scale is an anachronism in the twenty-first century should take a look at the catalogue of an exhibition recently concluded at the University of Dayton featuring fifty selections from the two-thousand-volume library of Stuart Rose, an Ohio businessman who has been quietly assembling a private collection of international stature in a very determined way for the past twenty-five years, with no sign whatsoever of slowing down.
Imprints and Impressions: Milestones in Human Progress was especially noteworthy for the fact that it was organized around the wide-ranging curriculum of the Marianist university, with teachers from various academic departments choosing titles they felt pertinent to their courses, and students invited to examine primary works that were consequential in the evolution of our culture. Those familiar with Printing and the Mind of Man, the landmark exhibition mounted in 1963 at the British Museum, will see parallels between the concept explored there, and the premise embraced in Dayton— books, essentially, that “made things happen in the world”—only in this instance every treasure came from the private library of one collector, with many hundreds more of similarly compelling interest that could very easily have been included as well.
Some examples of what Rose has on his shelves? How about, just off the top, Shakespeare, Copernicus, Dante, Homer, Aquinas, Bacon, Newton, Galileo, Boswell, Goethe, Kepler, Diderot, Descartes, Darwin, Marx, Balzac, Baudelaire, Twain, Pascal, Freud, Curie, and Einstein? They are represented in the earliest printed editions, many of them with remarkable associations and bearing impressive inscriptions. Unlike Printing and the Mind of Man, the Rose collection is also strong on fiction, works of the imagination in general, and American masterpieces, which were woefully marginalized in the 1963 exhibition. And while this very definitely is a “high spot” collection, there is considerable versatility that renders it unpredictable, as I learned when Rose, chairman and chief executive officer of REX American Resources Corporation (REX on the New York Stock Exchange), invited me to spend some time among the treasures he keeps shelved in two wood-paneled rooms of his home. I was mightily taken, for instance, by the two-thousand-year-old Book of the Dead on papyrus, and an eighth-century Hyakumanto Darani, the oldest traceable publication in the world whose production date is clearly identified, and housed in its own miniature three-tiered wooden pagoda.