On Jerome Kern, George Bernard Shaw, Lars Ulrich, and More

Jerome Kern (1885-1945), inscription to A.S.W. Rosenbach in Nine Answers by G. Bernard Shaw…
[New York:] Privately printed for Jerome Kern, 1923
Ro3 923sh Tucked away in Doctor Rosenbach’s personal library is this little volume, an inscribed Christmas gift from Hall of Fame songwriter and legendary book collector Jerome Kern. And when you come across the autograph of the man who wrote “Ol’ Man River,” “I Won’t Dance,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” (a perennial wedding favorite, but not my personal favorite), and “A Fine Romance” (that’s more like it), you have to look into it.

The book is a privately printed 62-copy edition of Nine Answers by George Bernard Shaw. (This copy is number 19.) Kern owned the manuscript of Shaw’s essay at the time. Brown University also has a copy of this book, and according to their site, Shaw himself was none too happy to learn of this pirated edition. I’m not sure how to square Shaw’s intellectual property concerns with his famous socialism — The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism does call for the elimination of private property after all. Mr. Shaw, have you met Mr. Ulrich?

Anyway, Kern started collecting books in the 1920s. His first purchase from the Rosenbach Company came in December 1922 and included a Wordsworth presentation copy. By the end of the decade, he had given up collecting and sold off his books and manuscripts. His brief career as a collector was certainly charmed, though. For example: in 1924, he grudgingly paid Dr. Rosenbach $9500 for Shelley’s own copy of Queen Mab, complete with annotations in the author’s hand — Kern knew the Doctor had paid only $6000 for it at a 1920 auction. (Its previous owner, Buxton Forman, had paid £6 for it in 1896.) In the famous Kern sale of 1929 at Anderson Galleries, he recouped his initial investment when the book sold for the trifling sum of $68,000. Dr. R., by the way, was the underbidder at $67,000. (The auction as a whole was an outrageous success — the total receipts amounted to $1,729,462.50.) But like I said, Kern was charmed. The same Queen Mab went up for sale again in 1951 and sold for just $8000 to Carl H. Pforzheimer — less than Kern had paid for it. You can now see the book in the Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection at the New York Public Library, where it never need fear the auctioneer’s hammer again. Click here for an image, replete with notes and Romantic doodles. (In case you’re wondering, the Shaw manuscript sold for $2600.)
Looking through the Rosenbach Company Archives, grudging — well maybe nonchalant is more appropriate — seems an apt description for Kern’s approach to payment. Philip Rosenbach wrote him several letters insisting on overdue payment, the first in February of 1925 for a bill of $4000 dating from January 1924. Kern finally made good on his debts in April of 1926. According to former employees Philip had a short fuse, but Kern apparently earned Philip’s wrath on this one. It all blew over, though. Kern periodically bought other items from the Rosenbachs after the 1929 sale. More on Kern and the Rosenbachs and very expensive books can be found in the Edwin Wolf/John Fleming biography of A.S.W Rosenbach from which much of the above has been cribbed. The book is sadly out-of-print but some copies are available in our Museum shop. That is all. Above: Elliot & Fry, portrait of Philip H. Rosenbach [detail]London, 1905
2006.1659Update: That is not all! One last thing about Jerome Kern. In the early 1920s he apparently lived at a place named “The Nuts” in Bronxville, New York. Now, is that the name of his house? If so, what a great name! Especially in the Roaring Twenties. I’m thinking of dubbing my house “The Fruits” or “The Bolts” or “The Sausages” or “The Loons” or something whimsical like that.

By 1926, correspondence addressed to Kern in the Rosenbach Company Archives goes to “Cedar Knolls” in Bronxville. Cedar Knolls is apparently a town near Bronxville. I had originally thought Kern moved or changed the name so his manse would better comport with the dignified Biltmore/Cliveden/Monticello school of estate naming (which, of course, is not nearly as much fun as “The Nuts”), but I guess he just moved to a different part of town. Ah well.

One thought on “On Jerome Kern, George Bernard Shaw, Lars Ulrich, and More

  1. Interesting. Thanks for sharing!

    I have a book with a Jerome Kern bookplate inside. It is the 1616, 1st Edition, First Issue, “Works of Ben Jonson” and is inscribed by Walter Scott to John Whitmore in 1826, Abbotsford, England.

    I’m now thinking this book was one auctioned at the 1929 sale. It is certainly in the class Kern would collect.

    Does anyone know where I might find a list of books auctioned at the 1929 sale?


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