Support American Jewish history and our unique and vital American library in 2024, for the love of books and the worlds they contain. Welcome to our Turn the Page Campaign!
Caring for the collections housed at AJHS is our primary mission, and stewarding the items in our care is the driving force behind all that we do. For the past two years, we have focused primarily on digitization as we endeavor to expand access, so this year we are turning back to our roots to focus on an important and magnificent brick in our foundation, our library collection. The AJHS library collection is deep and unique; it features some of the earliest materials donated to the AJHS in the infancy of the Society, and is due for some special attention, preservation and acquisition work.
Gotham and the Gothamites by Samuel Judah was published in 1823, and is considered the first work of satire by a Jewish American. Judah was unsparing in his views of many prominent New Yorkers (including those who worshipped at Shearith Israel, where Judah was also a member), and was sued for libel, effectively ending his career as an author. Given the controversy over the book, many copies have a specific page range missing; the AJHS copy is complete. This book was donated to AJHS by noted collector A.S.W. Rosenbach, one of many items he gifted to AJHS over the years.
AJHS is the oldest ethnic, cultural archive in the country, and books donated by early AJHS leadership are a significant part of this collection. Books donated by Max Kohler alone offer a wealth of vital and important works, often signed by the authors themselves. Noted bibliophile and bookseller A.S.W. Rosenbach donated a remarkable body of titles and printed ephemera to AJHS; a collection which includes sermons, almanacs, and other extraordinary printed materials, such as a truly exquisite copy of Isaac Leeser’s English translation of the Hebrew Bible. Our library materials represent the original core of the AJHS collection overall, and the excitement around our library and creating scholarship using the books within are what truly catalyzed the AJHS collecting program and encouraged others to donate materials to the organization in the late 19th and early 20th century.
One of the most interesting things we find in books are notes and other writings from previous owners, including bookplates and marks of ownership; this copy of Mordechai Manual Noah’s Travels in England, France, Spain, and the Barbary States (published 1819), was previously owned by Captain Napthali Taylor Phillips. AJHS holds the papers of Captain Phillips and other members of his family. While Phillips had a successful career in the military and as a lawyer he maintained a deep interest in American Jewish history, which is why he would have a book such as Noah’s in his library. This book was donated to AJHS by noted collector A.S.W. Rosenbach, one of many items he gifted to AJHS over the years.
Our library collection has been developed and maintained over a century of stewardship, through the tireless work of AJHS librarians and curators who took the time and care to select and acquire its components. A library is not static — not simply books on a shelf. A library is an ecosystem unto itself, and one that needs constant care to preserve for another century and beyond. We at AJHS are now engaged in a systematic library evaluation, identifying items in need of preservation assistance, assessing shelving and storage, and thinking strategically of practices around description and access for greater discoverability. We have also been looking at areas for acquisition so we may grow and improve our library collections in key areas that you, and all our current and future researchers, will appreciate; adding new materials that will bolster study and illuminate the landscape of American Jewish history critical to our mission.
We hope you will join us in this exciting campaign, and help us honor our legacy of thoughtful and purposeful collecting, preservation and sharing. Funds needed and our goal for the Turn the Page Campaign is $40,000. A gift of any size is significant. A gift of $500 allows us to preserve and digitize two rare books, and a gift of $1000 allows us to purchase, catalog, and make available ten new books to researchers. Join us! And help us Turn the Page to a new era of AJHS library support and acquisition!
Learn more about select books found in the AJHS library on our Blog!
- Grace Aguilar: 19th Century Poet, Religious Commentator & Romance Author
- Making new “Friends”: A generous gift from the Friends of the Oakton Library