The Rosenbach is a stunning library hidden in plain sight in the heart of Philadelphia which contains an almost unbelievable collection of rare books ranging from a hand-written copy of Ulysses to the first book ever published in America.
Tucked away on a gorgeous residential block, the somewhat unassuming pair of buildings that comprise its facilities are actually home to one of the most impressive collections of rare books and manuscripts in the entire world. James Joyce’s manuscript for Ulysses, Stoker’s hand-written notes for Dracula, and original copies of the William Henry Ireland Shakespeare forgeries are just a very few examples of the gems that live in this place. Pick a famous literary or historical icon from 1450 - 1900 and chances are they are represented in this collection in some way. The Rosenbach is a museum with rotating exhibitions that have some of the materials on view, and you can also take a tour of the historic house that belonged to the Rosenbach brothers - the collectors responsible for this mecca of bibliophilia. The undisputed highlight is the 19th century library where things like the Ulysses manuscript sit casually on a shelf behind delicate glass doors.
As an added bonus, the library was chosen to be the caretaker of the works of late, great author and illustrator, Maurice Sendak.
Possibly the coolest feature of the library are their hands-on tours. A number of tours are offered, each with a different theme, and a staff member will actually bring out pieces for visitors to touch and feel - all while providing fascinating information about their background, historical significance, etc. Going one better, if you are local and interested in spending some up close and personal time with one of their books, you can make an appointment to do that. For free.
Whether you have some time to kill in a really pretty part of the city, or want to spend a day (or several) poring over one of Doyle’s manuscripts for Sherlock Holmes, you can do it here.
Know Before You Go
Just a few blocks from Rittenhouse square in Philadelphia, the Rosenbach is comprised of two brick townhouses on a residential block.