Lewis Carroll Collection at Rosenbach Museum and Library

Curator's Choice tells the stories behind prized objects and artifacts from the collections of historical organizations and cultural institutions in Pennsylvania.

Philadelphia rare book dealer A.S.W. Rosenbach shocked the British in 1928 when he purchased at auction the original manuscript of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1832-1898). By buying the work, then known as Alice’s Adventures Underground, he earned widespread recognition – not all of it favorable – as “the man who bought Alice.” Rosenbach eventually gave the manuscript of one of the world’s best loved (and extensively interpreted) stories to the British Museum in London.

An aggressively acquisitive collector, Rosenbach assembled the finest collection of Carolliana in the world. The collection is a centerpiece of the museum, which originally served as the residence of Rosenbach and his brother Philip. The Rosenbach Museum and Library’s collection includes hundreds of letters by the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson
(better known by his pen name, Lewis Carroll), presentation copies of his books, including his own copy of Alice, and orig­inal drawings by Sir John Tenniel.

Sir John Tenniel (1820-1914) created illustrations for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Alice’s Adventures Through the Looking Glass and What She Found There (1872). While most of his works were based on Carroll’s drawings in Alice’s Adventures Underground and his precise specifications, Tenniel’s illustrations are among the finest ever produced. The remarkable detail and obvious care of his illustrations attest to Tenniel’s talent as an artist.

In addition to his illustrations for Car­roll’s books, Tenniel also illustrated an edition of Aesop’s Fables, published in 1848. From 1851 to 1901, he was cartoonist for Punch, a magazine of irreverence and satire, for which he drew about twenty-three hundred cartoons. He was reluctant to take the position, arguing that he was more concerned with “high art,” as well as doubting his ability to produce humorous cartoons. Tenniel, who was blind in one eye, possessed a photographic memory and never used models or photographs when drawing.

Of Sir John Tenniel’s pieces included in the extensive holdings of the Rosen­bach Museum and Library are drawings created for Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures Through the Looking Glass and What She Found There, They’d Eaten Every One (1870/1871) and You May Shake Hands (1870/1871).

The Rosenbach Museum and Library is both a research institution and a historic house museum, the only one of its period open in Philadelphia. Its holdings include James Joyce’s manuscript of Ulysses, sketches for Vanity Fair by W.M. Thackeray, paintings by William Blake, the first issue of Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac, and a selection of manuscript pages from The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens (see “The Man Who Bought Alice in Wonderland” by Linda Kowall, Winter 1988).

For more information, write: Rosen­bach Museum and Library, 2010 DeLancey Pl., Philadelphia, PA 19103; telephone (215) 732-1600; or visit the Rosen­bach Museum and Library website.