A literary dream: English students explore a mystical book collection

January 17, 2023

A literary dream: English students explore a mystical book collection

Black circle with white lines in it on a red background
Stuart Rose

Walking into a library with floor to ceiling shelves brimming with books is every English major’s dream. Stuart Rose’s shelves are mystical, filled with first editions of works by Dickens, Kant, Grimm, Dumas and other pivotal figures that shaped the course of modern history. Rose and his wife opened their home to the students of English 5612, excited to answer any questions about the collection and interact with them. Their adorable dogs, a pug and chihuahua, were just as welcoming.  

The students enrolled in Professor David Brewer’s History of Book Modernity course had the unique opportunity to visit and interact with this amazing collection this semester. As a part of the class's exploration of the rare book trade, Rose has been kind enough to host multiple sections over the years. Nikki Barnhart, a MFA in Creative Writing student remarks on the experience, “(It) was truly such a unique experience, and having the opportunity to not only view, but actually handle his incredibly esteemed collection, felt unreal.” 

Associate Professor Eric Johnson is an acquaintance of Rose and has interacted with the medieval manuscripts in the collection. He is a curator of the Thompson Special Collections and Herman J Albrecht Library of Historical Architecture, in addition to being the Lead Curator of the Rare Books and Manuscript Library (RBML). He teaches across the humanities curriculum with a focus on manuscript studies and book history. Johnson recalls their introduction, “(it was) via telephone a couple years ago when he called me directly to invite me to visit his collection. I’m not sure what prompted him to reach out, but I’m glad he did because I’d long been interested in meeting him and exploring his collection.” 

Colorfully illustrated Medieval manuscript

Johnson visited the collection for the first time in May 2021. He says, “I was blown away by what he showed me: gorgeous, illuminated manuscripts, fantastic early-printed editions, wonderful association copies of major works of history and literature. We had a fun few hours exploring his shelves.” The success of Johnson’s first visit with his Medieval and Renaissance Studies 5611 course in autumn 2021 made Johnson and Rose “determined to make this opportunity available to other students in other courses.” 

This determination prompted Johnson to connect Brewer to Rose in autumn 2021. Brewer recounts the impact the field trips had on his Medieval and Renaissance Studies 5611 and English 5612 classes: the students get “to explore his extraordinary collection. Our visits have provided my students with an opportunity to engage with some magnificent material, both old and new, that would otherwise be unavailable to them and to understand how a private collector approaches his work, which very usefully complements our study of the complex and varied ways in which people and books have interacted.” Johnson is “very much looking forward to our next course-based interaction with Stuart, Mimi, and their superb library. Ohio State is very lucky to have such generous, thoughtful, and accommodating supporters.” 

Floor to ceiling bookshelves in room

While Rose had professors from the University of Dayton visit his collection with their interns and hosted the occasional class field trip for his daughters’ high school classmates, the classes from Ohio State are the first undergraduate courses he has hosted. He finds Ohio State’s programs to be one of the best, emphasizing how important it is that students interact directly with materials in the RBML. He emphasizes the importance of teaching students how to become collectors themselves, remarking that he would have found such coursework valuable in college.  

Rose has been collecting big ticket items for over three decades now. His collecting focus has always been wide, with his books and ephemera falling in the disciplines of philosophy, science, astronomy, astrology, medicine, politics and so many others. He prizes condition and rarity, with an emphasis on annotations. Nineteenth-century literature with original bindings is the most comprehensive part of his collection. “There’s isn’t much I don’t have,” he remarks about this section of his collection. 

When asked about his favorites, Rose places the original Shakespeare folios in the place of honor as his most prized item. He follows this with his first editions of Copernicus and William Harvey’s Exercitatio Anatomica du Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus. Many students found their own favorites within the collection. Regina Ewan, MA/PhD in English Student, mentioned her fascination with the annotated copy of Martin Luther King’s speech given during the march on Washington. She notes the absence of the famous phrase, “I have a dream”. 

In addition to building his own collection, Rose is involved with the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC. Some of the pieces from his collection will be a part of their opening exhibit next fall. The Stuart and Mimi Rose Rare Book and Manuscript Hall, one of the new exhibition halls under construction, will display works and items representative of the early modern world. He also recently helped Tulane University acquire an Anne Rice collection. The university reached out to him to ask for his support in this acquisition. 

Keeping with the spirit of collection and exhibition that is the core of Brewer’s class, his students have curated their own exhibit in collaboration with RBML this past autumn semester as their final, Pushing the Boundaries of Books. The exhibit “showcase(d) materials that have challenged (the student’s) perceptions of the book in both form and content, and their surprising materials, purposes and creators re-define what a book can be.” The installation aimed to "explore and experience texts... that have become works of art, aided political movements, transcribed personal history, brought communities together and much more.” 

by Jayasree Sunkireddy 

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