Irving Rosenwater

I would like to have met Irving Rosenwater but, sadly, I didn’t really discover him until after his death in 2006 at the age of 73. I knew the name, and had read and enjoyed his 1978 biography of Donald Bradman, still one of if not the best of the many, many books that The Don has inspired, but I knew very little about Rosenwater the man in those days.

The brief biographical details on the dust jacket of the Bradman biography did tell me that Rosenwater was a cricket man through and through, so much so that his knowledge of the game was such that he was no longer permitted to enter the Cricket Society’s annual quiz, but they give no real clue as to his personality.

Once I did start to learn more about Rosenwater I realised that we had several things in common. This is something of a cause for concern in some ways as when trying to rationalise the stories that abound of Rosenwater’s behaviour the only conclusion it is possible to come to is that he was undoubtedly somewhere on the autistic spectrum. I have neither any particular expertise in that subject or detailed knowledge of the man, but having spoken to people who know autism well and others who knew Rosenwater, a clear pattern of traits emerges.

In my personal comparison the shared love of cricket of myself and Rosenwater is of course a given, and a hugely disappointing lack of any significant playing ability another. Like me Rosenwater began his working life in a solicitor’s office, although he had the foresight to get out of there and spend his life in the world of cricket rather than one of irascible judges and stressed out clients. Perhaps in the final analysis Rosenwater simply wasn’t a good enough lawyer to make it, but it is one of the those occupations where diligence and hard work can substantially offset a lack of flair or talent, and also one where an inability to get on with anyone for very long can be turned to one’s advantage

A fascination for the printed word has led me, like Rosenwater, to fill my home with books and other publications about the game of cricket, although Rosenwater’s collecting tastes went rather further than mine and included letters, photographs and all sorts of ephemera. One of the few people I can identify who Rosenwater seems never to have fallen out with was Geoffrey Copinger, the leading collector of his time. Another is financier Tim Bunting who, after Copinger’s death in 1998, acquired his famous collection in its entirety. There is doubtless a causal link between the collecting bug and Rosenwater spending his life as a single man and, with thirty years hindsight, I can see his wisdom on that one.

Writing was Rosenwater’s calling, and he spent time on the staff at The Cricketer, edited the Journal of the Cricket Society and also contributed to Wisden, although not for long. He resigned on a point of principle when the Almanack decided to accord Test status to the series of matches between England and the Rest of the World in 1970. Against that background it is perhaps surprising that Rosenwater opted to join World Series Cricket in 1978, but he seems to have had no qualms about doing so – perhaps like so many others despite his beliefs he had his price, one which Wisden could not afford but Kerry Packer could. It was a job he eventually could not continue with after he lost, due to being barred from doing so, the ability to take internal flights within Australia. The detail matters not for present purposes, although it was certainly the display of another trait that puts him well and truly on the spectrum.

There is no doubt Rosenwater could be a difficult and pedantic man. As indicated he fell out with many people over the years. He had some odd quirks. He was an inveterate letter writer, but woe betide anyone who put a second class stamp on a letter to him. Tales of his eccentricity abound amongst those who knew him, his almost invariable refusal to allow his own work to be edited, and his lifelong loyalty to a typewriter one of his friends described as being an appropriate item for an appearance on Antiques Roadshow. I assume he never therefore harnessed the power of the internet for his research – I can’t help wondering what might have been the result had he done so.

As a researcher Rosenwater was a perfectionist. He was also entirely self-sufficient, and did all his own research from primary sources. For a man who owned so many books and publications about the game it is remarkable that no bibliography attaches to any of his work, but that total reliance on his own efforts meant one was never needed. I have heard some accuse him of prolixity, and he certainly didn’t have the lightness of touch of a Robertson-Glasgow, but as I know only too well any degree of legal training discourages economy of language, and of course there is that spectrum as well.

Rosenwater was involved in some other major projects as well as the biography of Bradman. He was one of the main contributors to a weighty work of reference, Barclays World of Cricket. With Ralph Barker he co-authored England Versus Australia: Test Cricket 1877-1968, a book that might have become the standard work on the Ashes and made him better known than he was, but David Frith nipped in with something similar in 1977, and that was that.

But none of those titles explains why Rosenwater is so revered amongst collectors of modern cricket books. The measure of that is an achievement in which he rightly took great pride, that being  that during his lifetime his work achieved the highest prices at auction of any living writer*, and before the last recession hit values continued onwards and upwards after his death. Whether the ebook generation puts a brake on the expansion of that sort of collecting remains to be seen but between 1964 and 2005 Rosenwater was responsible for some fascinating booklets and monographs, all issued in small signed limited editions. The acquisition of the fruits of his labours is addictive, as I have learnt to my cost.

The zeal with which he approached his research was one feature of Rosenwater’s personality, and the immediate cause of his first monograph was another. Another great eccentric of the world of the study of cricket history was Major Rowland Bowen, editor, owner and main contributor to the critically acclaimed Cricket Quarterly, a sought after journal that ran for eight years between 1963 and 1971. Rosenwater who, for a time, must have got on with Bowen, penned a piece for the Quarterly about Frederick Ashley-Cooper, a writer/historian/statistician from the early 20th Century. The two men fell out spectacularly over the article, and Bowen went on to publish his own, while Rosenwater’s emerged as F.S.Ashley-Cooper: The Herodutus of Cricket, a 16 page bound pamphlet which appeared in a signed and numbered edition of 25 copies. As with all his early works, and indeed some later ones, all were given away to his friends – despite his many faults Rosenwater was not avaricious in that way.

Four years were to elapse before Rosenwater repeated the experiment. The subject of his next publication, The Story of a Cricket Playbill, is about as quirky as you get. It concerns an item from the Ashley-Cooper collection that consisted of an advertisement for an evening’s entertainment in a Leeds theatre in 1780 that contained a reference to cricket. Rosenwater burrowed into this in his usual style and produced a three page article for the Northern Cricket Society’s 1968 annual. Unlike the Ashley-Cooper piece this did appear, but nonetheless Rosenwater produced an edition of 25 for his friends.

A year later saw another piece of a biographical nature appearing. There were rather more copies this time, 50 in all, but they were still distributed privately. The subject was J.N Pentelow, a contemporary of Ashley-Cooper. Pentelow was more writer than historian, and was the last owner of Cricket: A Weekly Record of the Game, a magazine that appeared between 1882 and 1913, and what we know of him today is largely as a result of Rosenwater’s sixteen page monograph which, as far as I am aware, was not published elsewhere.

Also only available in the original Rosenwater edition (this time of 30) is Charles Dickens and Cricket. Rosenwater signed the 30 copies on the 100th anniversary of Dickens’ death, 9th June 1970. The content of the 12 page essay is self-explanatory. One of today’s most noted historians, John Goulstone, also produced some research on the subject in 2004 – I wonder if Rosenwater saw it, and if so what he thought of it?

Just as it looked like a publication from Rosenwater was going to become an annual event there was then another five year hiatus before fifty copies of Alfred James Gaston: A Study in Enthusiasm rolled off the press and into the hands of those then within Rosenwater’s circle of friends. The theme was a familiar one, a writer/historian of the Victorian age, in Gaston’s case one with a special interest in Sussex cricket.

Rosenwater’s next publication, in 1976, is something of a digression in that it was a book, as opposed to a pamphlet, and despite, ultimately, self-publishing Rosenwater did seek to sell the finished article rather than give it away. But the title belongs here partly because it was a signed and numbered limited edition (200), and partly because of its subject matter. Cricket Books: Great Collectors of the Past, allowed Rosenwater to reprise his interest in Ashley-Cooper, and look in detail at the lives and collecting habits of AL Ford, Charles Pratt-Green, Alfred Taylor, Thomsa Padwick, Rev RS Holmes, Sir Julien Cahn, Charles Britton and Rockley Wilson.

After 1977 and his signing for World Series Cricket there were no more Rosenwaters until 1993. Whether there is a causal link I know not, but there was one more to appear before that long break. Again there were 50 copies gifted and this one was Arthur Langford: A Memoir. Langford was, for many years, the owner of The Cricketer and the man who had first published a young Rosenwater back in 1949 in the magazine’s readers’ correspondence section.

Those who remained in Rosenwater’s circle over the next sixteen years, and I dare say there weren’t too many, were then treated to as many as three monographs in 1993, all of which are now just about the scarcest and most expensive there are. First up, in April, was a new departure, an essay about a cricketer.  Douglas Robert Jardine: Gentleman and Player was Rosenwater’s homage to the man he considered one of the very best English captains. As previously there were 50 copies so the comparative rarity can only arise out of the cricket world’s continuing fascination with all things Bodyline.  The items that appeared in September and November were much more limited, to 25 and 20 copies respectively. The first needs no further elaboration from me, IT Botham: A Few Highlights. The second was back to more familiar territory, JM Kilburn: An Appreciation, a 10 page essay on the long time cricket correspondent of the Yorkshire Post, who had died in the August just gone.

The following year of 1994 saw two Rosenwater monographs, both on subjects that he was to revisit again the future. Both appeared in editions of 50 and again were not commercial ventures. The first was Frederick Gale and the First Cricket Auction, dealing with a sale that took place in 1891. A little longer than hitherto this consists of 24 pages and incudes a reproduction of the catalogue, albeit one that is very difficult to read. The next also contained a copy document, WG Grace’s Will, and WG Grace: A Footnote to History remains for me the ultimate expression of what Rosenwater did.

There were three further offerings in 1995. January saw the appearance of one of the oddest of all, Thomas Keay Tapling: Cricketer and Philatelist. Way back in 1886 a 30 year old Tapling made a single undistinguished First Class appearance for MCC against Cambridge University. At the time he was conservative MP for Harborough in Leicestershire. At 35 he was dead, but he had found time in his life to be called to the bar, head up a successful family business in the textile industry and build up the best stamp collection in England, a legacy that remains intact and housed in the British Museum to this day. Three months later came Seymour Clark of Somerset: An Appreciation, the said Clark being a wicketkeeper who got to the wicket nine times in First Class cricket without ever scoring a run. Finally there was the story of George Freeman: Poetry in Motion, about a Yorkshireman who WG Grace considered the finest fast bowler he had faced. There were 52 copies of that one, one for each year of Freeman’s life, and 50 each of Tapling and Clark.

It can be argued that Rosenwater matched his previous year’s output in 1996 and produced three publications. I will begin with the last, on any interpretation a ‘cinderella’ effort. For this year and the following nine before his death Rosenwater produced a Christmas card which contained a small piece of cricket research or writing. The first was A Boycott Anthology, which amounted to a small selection of brief quotes about the great Yorkshire opener.

The two more substantial efforts were AC MacLaren: Justice Denied, a discussion about the correctness or otherwise of recognising as First Class the 429 that Bill Ponsford scored against Tasmania in 1923 that took over the record of the First Class game’s highest score from MacLaren’s 424 for Lancashire against Somerset that had been recorded thirty years previously. That was followed by a very short essay, Voices From the Past, that expressed regret at the paucity of recordings of the voices of old players. There were 50 copies of the MacLaren, but a mere 20 of Voices From the Past.

The New Year of 1997 began for Rosenwater with How M’Dougal Topped The Score. This consists of the reproduction of some Australian cricket verses with an introduction by Rosenwater. Clearly he must have found them entertaining, but I must confess they leave me cold. His next venture was a little different. To start with it was larger, extending to 41 pages, and this time there were 100 copies and, importantly, 90 were for sale, the whole venture being published by Christopher Saunders, who was to be responsible for all of Rosenwater’s bulkier efforts from then on.

There were three more publications for 1997. Two had appeared elsewhere and both were published privately by Rosenwater himself and limited to 20 copies. One was An Unjust Slur on Bobby Peel, a complete dismantling of the tale that Peel had been dismissed by Yorkshire for urinating on the pitch, a story that had gained credence as a result of something first published by Rosenwater’s then long deceased bête noire, Bowen, many years previously. It had first appeared in The White Rose magazine. The second was a return to an old favourite, WG Grace: A Leviathan Was He, explaining some of the more remarkable statistics that attach to the old man’s record in an essay that first appeared in the Journal of the Cricket Society.

The third 1997 title was a Saunders publication, 41 pages and a limitation of 100 copies, thus in relative terms not uncommon. The subject comes from familiar territory, books and bookmen of the past, thus at first blush nothing unusual. What is unique about Arthur Haygarth Reconsidered is that Rosenwater did not have the field to himself. Where Haygarth is concerned there was and is a man with even greater knowledge than Rosenwater had, Roger Heavens.

When Arthur Haygarth Reconsidered was conceived it was suggested to Rosenwater that he might choose to consult Heavens. His reaction was, apparently, somewhat dismissive as he informed his advisor that as he had been researching the subject (although clearly not in isolation) for more than twenty years no one else would be able to contribute anything positive. It is hardly surprising that after a lifetime of studying Haygarth Heavens considers there are a number of areas where he could have assisted Rosenwater in the preparation of his prose, but nonetheless he does concede that Rosenwater’s effort is a good and mostly accurate assessment of Arthur’s life and the importance of his contribution to the game.

Rosenwater began 1998 with his only limited edition that was not concerned with cricket, the subject being Walter Arthur Copinger. The fact that he was Geoffrey’s grandfather was clearly significant, and Copinger Snr was a bibliophile to boot, albeit not in relation to cricket. His greater fame came from the law. He was a barrister who became an academic and a noted expert in property law and copyright. There are 25 copies.

Later on in 1998 Rosenwater ran off ten copies of an essay he had written for the Club Cricket Conference News about his old friend, Geoffrey A Copinger: A Tribute and signed and dated those. He did the same thing twice more that year first with Those 721 in a Day – They Never Hurried, about Bradman’s Invincibles mauling of the Essex attack in 1948, and then Of Books and Bookishness. Both essays originally appeared in the Journal of the Cricket Society.

Two traditional Rosenwater cricketing monographs appeared in 1998 via Christopher Saunders who produced 75 copies of Thomas Verity, Architect of the Lord’s Pavilion. The title tells any potential reader what they need to know about the subject under consideration. What it doesn’t do is indicate just how well author and publisher have put the monograph together – if only Mr Saunders had been involved in the Frederick Gale.  There were also 90 copies of Sir Donald Bradman – Ninety Not Out, a 24 page tribute to mark the great man’s 90th birthday.

In 1999 Rosenwater’s output was limited, and peculiar. First was a reproduction of a handbill advertising a rail company’s excursion to a cricket match at Crystal Palace in 1880. There is no cricketing content to the advertisement and no accompanying text from Rosenwater. The 25 copies of these single sheets were sold via Christopher Saunders. Why anyone should have bought one escapes me, and that comment comes from a man whose pursuit of Rosenwaters borders on the obsessive. Renton’s Ruse, An Australian Cricket Story was Rosenwater’s other contribution to cricket literature in 1999. There are 30 copies of this original story by John Patrick from the 1910 Pall Mall Gazette that has an introduction from Rosenwater. Honesty compels me to refer any reader to my comment about How M’Dougal Topped The Score.

As the new millennium dawned there was but one publication bearing Rosenwater’s name and this time he was back to a more traditional product. There are 60 copies of Sir Home Gordon, Bart: An Affectionate Respect, telling the story of one of cricket journalism’s more prodigious workers. Home Gordon was an interesting choice for Rosenwater as they were, to say the least, very different. Gordon could match or perhaps even surpass Rosenwater for enthusiasm, but for quality of writing and accuracy there is no comparison to be made.

In 2001 Sir Donald Bradman departed this mortal coil and to the surprise of no one his best biographer produced a tribute. Rosenwater privately produced 30 copies of Donald George Bradman and the twelve page tribute is one of his most sought after productions.  The only other monograph in that year came from the Saunders stable. There are 100 copies of Roy Webber Statistician, a return once more to a portrayal of a writer/historian/statistician.

There were two publishers for Rosenwater in 2002. Christopher Saunders was responsible for The Padwick Bibliography – Its Genesis. Cricket is fortunate indeed to have a bibliography, a massive undertaking that was talked about for years before EW ‘Tim’ Padwick was given the task in 1970 and completed the first edition in 1977, so this was in the nature of a 25th anniversary. There are 75 copies. There was a slightly larger print run, 100 in total, of the Bodyline Books sponsored The Celebrated Goldman Sale. Between the passing of those who were the subject matter of Cricket Books: Great Collectors of the Past and the full flowering of the Copinger collection solicitor Joe Goldman was for years the pre-eminent cricket collector and there was a famous sale of his extensive collection in 1966. Rosenwater’s monograph is in part a brief biography of Goldman, and in part the story of the sale. It also includes a facsimile of the catalogue, and the prices reached, which unusually records the names of the buyers. A few names are familiar. Rosenwater himself won just one of the 301 lots, number 299, paying £2.25 for a souvenir of Sir Julien Cahn’s side’s trip to Malaya in 1937. A copy of the self same souvenir cost this writer £250 in 2015 – how times change!

Bodyline published Rosenwater twice more. The first was a tribute to the well known Yorkshire based collector Anthony Woodhouse provided by Rosenwater as  an introduction for an early 2003 catalogue. As was his wont Rosenwater ran off 10 special copies and signed and numbered them before giving them away.

There were two more 2003 publications for Rosenwater, the titles of both of which leave the reader in no doubt as to their subject matter. When FE Woolley Scored a Century for Lancashire appeared in an edition of 50 from Christopher Saunders, and Herbert Sutcliffe and the Yorkshire Captaincy was, in an edition of 75, Bodyline’s final involvement in the Rosenwater oeuvre.

In 2004 there were two Rosenwater publications. The first was The Cricket Rhymes of HC Coghlan. These long forgotten verses that dated back to 1911 clearly appealed to Rosenwater, and he researched Coghlan’s life and provided a new introduction. It is not to my tastes though, and for Coghlan read M’Dougal and Renton. There are 60 copies. The second, much more appealing, is rather more scarce, only 30 copies being produced. Again the lengthy title says everything there is to know about the content, Speech Delivered by Irving Rosenwater On The Occasion Of The Opening Of The Copinger Cricket Library At The Home Of TB Bunting , Rotherwick, Hampshire, 24 October 2004.

The final Rosenwaters appeared in 2005. The first was a poem, Farewell St Lawrence Lime, penned by Rosenwater to mark the felling of the famous old lime tree that had stood just inside the boundary at the St Lawrence Ground, Canterbury for 190 years, and that was the number chosen for the limitation. Last of all were 125 copies of HT Waghorn – A Singular Portrait which was a case of Rosenwater doing what he did best and most frequently, delving into the life of one of the game’s great historians who no one had bothered to examine closely before.

That is not quite the end of the story as I have recently acquired something else, Jack the Ripper – Sort of a Cricket Person, which is a reproduction of an article of Rosenwater’s that appeared in The Cricketer in 1973 and which explored the theory that the identity of the notorious Whitechapel Murderer was Montague Druitt, a barrister and very good club cricketer whose body was found in the Thames shortly after the last murder. The copy I have purports to be one of a limited edition of 100, but is neither numbered nor signed. It does not bear Mr Saunders’ imprint, although it does bear the date of 2005. I presume it is simply something that Rosenwater, who died on 30 January 2006, was never able to finish off.

When he died Rosenwater had had his three score years and ten, but 73 is no great age these days, and there remains a feeling of having lost him prematurely. Had he lived we would doubtless have seen a few more of his somewhat self-indulgent flights of fancy, but at the same time I am confident we would know rather more than we do about a number of interesting individuals, by which I have in mind the likes of GB Buckley, Henry Bentley or the Reverend Pycroft, or perhaps even Rosenwater on Rosenwater – now that would have been an interesting read!

*Although based on recent selling prices for his monograph on Somerset and England all-rounder Arthur Wellard I do wonder if Harold Pinter might have had the better claim


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