Ludwig Rosenthal’s name will forever be closely tied to Buxheim and its library. The medieval library became inextricably linked with his antiquarian book business even before the 1883 auction that dispersed thousands of volumes throughout Europe and North America. Ludwig was born in 1840 in the small village of Fellheim on the Iller River, about 8 kilometers north of Buxheim. His father, Joseph, was also a lover of books and an antiquarian, but of very modest means. Ludwig Rosenthal first attended the Jewish-Christian school in Fellheim, then attended school in Buxheim at age 13. It was at this time that he became familiar with the treasures of the Buxheim collection, and he must have imagined how grand it would be to have such a library. Then at age 15 he was apprenticed to Isaac Hess, a bookseller in Ellwangen, near Memmingen. In 1859 at the young age of 19 he opened his own business in antiquarian and used books in his home town. His first catalog, containing some 3000 items, was issued the same year. In 1867 he opened his rare book business at 16 Hildegardstraße in München. A few years later, in 1872, he took on his brothers Nathan and Jacob (Jacques) as partners.
The business was soon booming, as the Rosenthal brothers bought whole libraries from wealthy families and towns, castles, and churches. Ludwig Rosenthal worked with the King of Bavaria, Ludwig II, on a collection of books and manuscripts on Louis XIV, and became especially well known for his expertise in the field of Theology, as well as the history of the Reformation and ancient liturgy. Then in 1883 his childhood dreams were realized when the entire library of the Buxheim Charterhouse went on the auction block. He was able to buy a considerable portion of the library, both at auction and en masse. Many of the manuscripts and incunables that appeared in later Rosenthal catalogs were not included in the Förster auction catalog. Ludwig and his brothers issued two important catalogs in 1884 and 1885 (numbers 40 and 41) containing many of the books that had been acquired from Buxheim. By the turn of the century, the Rosenthals had amassed a collection of over a million books, at the time more than the Royal Library of Bavaria.
At the age of 65 Ludwig Rosenthal took on his three sons as partners but did not retire until he was 82 years old. He died in 1928 at the age of 88. The sons’ partnership had already been dissolved in 1922, when Heinrich started a business under his own name and Adolf retired from book selling. Norbert was left as sole partner of the original enterprise and was soon joined by his three sons Ernst, Paul, and Fritz. The Rosenthal business was doing well, but in 1933 with the Nazi’s rise to power, everything changed. In 1937 Fritz and his wife Hilde, along with Paul, emigrated to Holland. Norbert and his son Ernst stayed behind with the majority of the stock. Ernst escaped to England in 1939 just before the outbreak of the war. but Norbert and Adolf died in a concentration camp, and Paul was killed in Holland. At the end of the war, Fritz and Hilde Rosenthal were able to reestablish their business in Hilversum, the Netherlands, with some of the original Rosenthal inventory that was recovered in München by American forces in 1949. Fritz Rosenthal, Ludwig’s grandson, died in 1955. Ludwig Rosenthal’s Antiquariaat continues in business to this day and is currently located in Leidschendam, the Netherlands. Another branch of the business was established in the United States by Bernard Rosenthal, born in München in 1920, the grandson of Jacques Rosenthal. Bernard emigrated to the United States in 1939 and established himself as a rare book dealer in New York in 1953. He moved his business to San Francisco in 1970 and died in Oakland, California, in 2017.
Incunabula and Postincunabula: Catalog 204. Ludwig Rosenthal’s Antiquariaat, 1859-1959, Introduction and History of the Firm.
Angermair, Elisabeth, et al. Die Rosenthals: Aufstieg einer jüdischen Antiquarsfamilie zu Weltruhm. Vienna: Böhlau, 2002.
ILAB Obituary for Bernard Rosenthal