The "Book Barons" of CincinnatiDon Heinrich Tolzmann, Curator of the German-Americana Collection, firstname.lastname@example.org
Cincinnati is well known for its brewing industry and the many colorful beer barons associated with it. However, Cincinnati was also known in the 19th Century as the literary emporium of the West due to its presses, book trade, and literary life. Not surprisingly, it also became the home of several remarkable private libraries assembled by various prominent individuals who might justifiably be described as Cincinnati’s very own “book barons.” Two kinds of book barons emerged in the city: the Clifton and the Over-the-Rhine barons. The former refers to members of the Anglo-American population who tended to live in Clifton, and the latter to those of the German-American elite living in or with connections in Over-the-Rhine.
Clifton Book Barons
The first significant Clifton book baron of note was Sir Alfred T. Goshorn, a civic-minded booster and owner of a paint company who became the “father” of local expositions in the 1870s/80s. In 1873, Goshorn was appointed Ohio Commissioner to the International Centennial Exposition scheduled for Philadelphia in 1876 in conjunction with the American Centennial. Due to his experience, he became director general of the affair and was knighted by Queen Victoria for his service, thereby becoming Cincinnati’s only knight at the time. In further recognition of Goshorn’s service, the city of Philadelphia presented him with a unique collection of 67 books, 303 pamphlets, and many photographs that had been on display at the 1876 Philadelphia Exposition. The catalogue of Goshorn’s Centenial Collection provides a fascinating picture of the kinds of materials considered important for display at this international event. The collection itself eventually was presented in the 1890s to the Historical and Philosophical Society (now the Cincinnati Historical Society). See Goshorn’s Catalogue of A Collection of Books Presented to Alfred T. Goshorn, Director General of the International Exhibition of 1876, by the Citizens of Philadelphia at Independence Hall, May 11, 1877.
Henry Probasco is well known not only as a past mayor of Cincinnati, but also for having donated the Tyler Davidson Fountain to the city. As a partner at Tyler Davidson & Co., he attained prominence in the late 19th Century and was known as one of the barons of the Mt. Storm area of Clifton. As with other book barons of the time, Probasco documented his book acquisitions by publishing the Catalogue of the Collection of Books, Manuscripts, and Works of Art, Belonging to Mr. Henry Probasco, Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1887, due to serious financial losses, Probasco was forced to sell his collection to the Newberry Library in Chicago where it became the nucleus of the new library. His collection included a Shakespeare First Folio, as well as numerous other rare materials. Fortunately, not all of his books left Cincinnati as some of them found their way into the library of the Athenaeum of Ohio in Cincinnati. Probasco had been a major benefactor to the Catholic archdiocese having personally presented many valuable items to Archbishop Purcell, including manuscripts, Bibles, Psalteries, Missals, and Brevaries that later became part of the Athenaeum’s library, thus retaining for Cincinnati some of the gems of his collection.
Robert E. Clarke, one of Cincinnati’s major publishers and booksellers, assembled a collection of books noted for their beautiful bindings and covering such topics as biographies, literary and American history, and science. A resident of Glendale, Clarke’s press published many works of historical significance, including his “Ohio Valley Historical Series.” His collection would be widely distributed as he sold parts of it to various entities. Starting in 1874, he sold 4,000 volumes, most dealing with American history, to future U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes. In 1892, he sold 15,000 volumes to the Newberry Library. He also gave 5,000 volumes of American history and archeology to the Lyceum in Glendale. Finally, in 1898, a year before his death, Clarke sold the rest of his collection (except publications that went to the Cincinnati Historical Society), consisting of 6,500 volumes, to William A. Procter, of P&G fame, who acquired the collection for the purpose of presenting it to the University of Cincinnati Libraries. A listing of Clarke’s collection was compiled in: List of Books from the Library of Robert E. Clarke, Presented to the University of Cincinnati by W. A. Procter, November 23, 1898.
Procter donated the Clarke collection as the nucleus of UC’s newly established Van Wormer Library. To add further to the library, he made two more substantial donations -- the first the Enoch T. Carson Shakespearian Library of 1,420 volumes, and the second the 9,000-volume chemistry collection of Thomas Herbert Norton, professor of chemistry and former UC librarian from 1896-1900. A handwritten catalog of the Carson collection was compiled by UC and entitled Shakespeare and the Drama: Accession List of the Carson Shakespeare Collection.
Over-the-Rhine Book Barons
The private libraries of the Over-the-Rhine book barons focused primarily on materials relating to German heritage. Heinrich A. Rattermann was a prominent member of the German-American elite, and his German Mutual Insurance Co., later named the Hamilton Mutual Insurance Co., was headquartered in the Germania Building at 12th and Walnut Street in Over-the-Rhine. Rattermann edited the historical journal Der Deutsche Pionier and acquired a national reputation as a German-American historian. Shortly before World War I, Rattermann’s collection was lost to Cincinnati when the University of Illinois-Urbana purchased it. A catalogue was published: Guide to the Heinrich A. Rattermann Collection of German-American Manuscripts, Donna-Christine Sell and Dennis Francis Walle.
Fortunately, the private library of Dr. H. H. Fick was not lost to another university and city, but was acquired by UC and became the nucleus of University Libraries’ German-Americana Collection. One of the largest collections of its kind, its focus is on German-American history, literature, and culture, and is especially rich in materials relating to the German heritage of the Ohio Valley. Fick, who began his teaching career at the Sixth District School on Elm Street in Over-the-Rhine, became Superintendent of the German Department of the Public Schools of Cincinnati. After his retirement in 1918, he devoted himself to amassing a private library of German-Americana. Holdings of the collection, which was established at UC in 1974, can be found in Don Heinrich Tolzmann’s Catalog of the German-Americana Collection, University of Cincinnati.
Other baronial bibliophiles could be mentioned, but this brief
survey clearly demonstrates their importance in starting libraries
and adding to the literary heritage of Cincinnati. It bears
noting that the book barons profiled here were not the only
individuals who amassed substantial private libraries, but
certainly they built some of the largest, most interesting,
and valuable collections. Moreover, by means of their catalogues
and the subsequent acquisition of their collections by various
institutions, they left an enduring legacy in Cincinnati and