Bernard M. Rosenthal Turns 90 - A Life for Rare Books and Manuscripts
By John Windle
On April 29, 2010, the family and close friends of Barney Rosenthal met at the renowned Family Club in San Francisco to celebrate Barney's 90th birthday. In addition to Barney, his wife Ruth, and his son David, about 40 librarians, collectors, dealers, printers, and binders, gathered to honor the great man.
John Crichton arranged for the event to take place at his Club, and he and Chris Loker made all the arrangements. John was the Master of Ceremonies, and introduced the speakers with amusing anecdotes of his own, while maintaining the gravitas that goes with being the only Club member present and thus on the hook for the rest of us should anything untoward occur.
First up, Charles Faulhaber, director of the Bancroft Library, spoke for librarians and especially referenced Barney's assistance in helping Tony Bliss (also present along with Peter Hanff in a Bancroft full-court press) build a major paleography collection almost single-handed. He noted Barney's long-lasting influence on so many of Bancroft's collections and his service on the Council thereof. He also cited his especial interest in the early Spanish printed Pedro Vindel. As befits a grave and distinguished librarian, Charles graciously refrained from telling any Barney jokes, but this would not last.
William P. Barlow Jr. on behalf of collectors reminisced about some books he has bought from Barney over almost five decades, not one of which was a bargain (save perhaps for a catalogue that had T.F. Dibdin's bookplate, which Barney didn't note in his description - though this writer suspects that Barney knew exactly what he had but wanted Bill to have the fun of finding out) but every one of which he thinks he is delighted to own. He specifically recalled buying a French translation of a Dibdin title for $47 some 40 plus years ago and wondered aloud if John Windle thought it was a good deal. John pointed out that then, as now, Bill was the only customer for it, but that he, John, might have got him a cheaper copy if he had been prepared to wait 40 years.
Next, John Windle, after speciously claiming to be a direct descendant of Pedro Vindel (vide supra) and thus with even deeper roots in European book history than the Rosenthal-Olschki-Schwab clan, spoke on behalf of the dealers and read greetings from the President of the ILAB and the President of the ABAA.
He presented Barney with a bottle of Macallan's single malt scotch (the 18-year old vintage, in a handsome wooden box) as a gift from the ABAA, and read a verse from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam from the extremely rare Latin translation known in 3 copies, before presenting Barney with a copy in the original wrappers that was inscribed by the translator. This was well received as Barney has long collected classics of literature translated into Latin, but Barney was later seen clutching the Macallan while the pamphlet lay on a table.
Andrew Hoyem spoke on behalf of the printers and led the assembled crowd in a rousing rendition of "It takes a worried man" substituting (after a false start due no doubt to the liberal libations enjoyed by one and all) "learned" for "worried". Slightly self-conscious laughter erupted when we all sang "I'm learned now, but I won't be learned long" with Barney nodding his head in agreement. Then Andrew unveiled a glorious two-color folio broadside keepsake he had printed especially for the event, a poem (in Latin of course) by Gerard Oberle celebrating Barney which Stuart Bennett read in his best Latin coached by Ian Jackson who had also prepared two other keepsakes for the event: an autobiographical sketch by Barney with an autobibliography of all his writings edited by Ian Jackson and designed by E. M. Ginger, and a reprint of the hilarious Christopher de Hamel skit on a Rosenthal catalogue offering such goodies as the Lindisfarne Gospels. It was copied from the unique version given by Christopher to Barney. Some of the keepsakes may still be available from the Brick Row Book Shop at a nominal fee, or not. Call 415 398-0414 and order now.
Finally, the honoree himself, dapper in an amazing tie that made those of us who recall the 60s quite nostalgic, rose to the occasion with a brief but moving expression of gratitude for an evening, and indeed a life, that was and is uniquely inspired and inspirational. His wife Ruth tried to get him to read from his notes but he brushed her off with a loving but firm gesture that said "I'm winging it, babe" if I read Italo-German body language correctly.
John Crichton closed the evening with the presentation of a huge and tasty birthday cake inscribed quite simply: "BR XC" and the traditional song was sung before the assembled company staggered out onto Powell Street which is inconveniently almost vertical in that block. Nonetheless, gravity was conquered, vehicles were retrieved or cable cars caught, and last I heard everyone got home safely. Happy Birthday, Barney.
The article is published in the ABAA Newsletter Issue 5, Spring 2010 (photographs by Zoe Zeitlins). It is presented here by permission of the ABAA. Thank you very much.
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