The Most Comprehensive Rose Library in the World?

‘The Most Comprehensive Rose Library in the World’. I wonder whether this would still be true today. This description by the Royal National Rose Society (RNRS) of their library was written regularly in their publications. This library has now been incorporated into The Rosarian Library so I am wondering whether we can still boast the world ranking. I have no reason to believe that the RNRS library lost some of its books; it is more a matter of whether other libraries have overtaken The Rosarian Library in the number and range of texts.

Rose Annuals
Annuals (1907 – 1984?) produced by the society came in a range of colours over the years.

Prior to the demise of the RNRS which sadly happened in May last year I was, (it now seems very coincidental) communicating with the society with regard to the books they held in their library. They seemed the obvious organisation to have a wide range of titles which would enable me to add to my ever growing list of rose texts. They kindly sent me an inventory of their old and rare titles. I am thankful now that I had this to hand when I was bidding to buy the entire contents of their library. It was these old and often rare books that I coveted for The Rosarian Library, some of which I had been searching for in vain. I had no proof, however, these titles still remained on their shelves. When a company goes into administration anything can happen. I had been sent only a couple of photographs by the administrators showing about 200 books and many of the titles I could see were books I already had in my library. It was with severe trepidation that I bid for these books with the added proviso that if certain titles were present I would pay more. I listed half a dozen books and quoted what I thought to be a fair price for each.

19th Century Rose Books
I was able to add to my 19th century texts, a few of which can be seen here.

I desperately wanted the books; I am not quite sure why. I had read about the history of the society and its growth over the years. I knew many committed and enthusiastic people had been involved in setting up the National Rose Society in 1876 and others continued developing the society throughout the 20th century and I knew that my father was a member in the 1960s and 1970s and occasionally wrote for them. What I did not know and I am sure it came as a shock to many was how financially unstable the society had become prior to May 2017. I was in the process of building my library and I knew that I would love all the books. I could not bear to see them go to a dealer for resale.

William Paul
William Paul (1822-1905). In my opinion the greatest rosarian and rose writer of the 19th century.

Success! It was a long and occasionally difficult negotiation but finally I have added about 200 ‘new’ titles to the library. The total number of different books written in English and dedicated solely to the rose now totals 540. I have a number of copies of some of the more popular books but most importantly I have added several titles to my collection of 19th century rose literature, in some cases several editions, to the point where the majority of the rose books written during that century are now in my library. I have also been able to add to the list of rose titles that have been written; this now totals 1001 so I still have plenty of collecting to do!

The Rose Book by H H Thomas
An attractive binding from an early 20th century text.

Can one have a pleasant dilemma? Or is that an oxymoron? Well I have one. With the books from the RNRS came many (100+) French titles, the majority of which are 19th century publications and in one or two cases 18th century titles. When I started The Rosarian Library I set a boundary within which I would include books written in English only. I will adhere to this but a separate special feature in the library will be the French titles and some are really special with glorious illustrations. They will also help with my research.

Roseraie de L'Hay
Some of the French texts have some stunning illustrations.

The titles that do not appeal to me quite so much are those relating to manures and fertilisers! ‘The Manual of Manures’ or ‘Common Sense Compost Making’ and the like are not titles that appeal to one who loves the books that include history, fragrance, colour, poetry or art. Monty Don would certainly appreciate the compost books more than me! What I do love about many of these books, however, is that they are bound with the classic black covers and gold lettering that make many of the books from the RNRS so distinctive.

Having catalogued the books dedicated solely to the rose I need now to turn my attention to the books that contain some information about roses which have their own section within the library. Perhaps the texts about manures, fertilisers, pests, hybridisation etc can join them. I can see their relevance to rose growing even if they are not my top priority.

Books waiting to be catalogued.
Books waiting to be catalogued.

A real dilemma I have always had with regard to my rose books is how to classify them. With some books it is easy because they are written about specific aspects of the rose or specific types of roses but the majority are about roses in general including a bit of everything: history, varieties, cultivation, roses in the garden etc. I personally think it is time we studied the rose in greater depth when writing to include only original factual and truthful information based on research or experience. Some books are so wide ranging and unspecific they need to go in a General Section. Well I expect that solves my problem.

Rose Year Books
There are a number of these in various formats and they are my pride and Joy!

The Rosarian Library is now a tremendous resource and I will continue to collect more of the 1001 books (there are bound to be others still remaining to be discovered) that have been written since the first in 1799. The library contains 540 of these books written in English and dedicated solely to the rose so there is still plenty of scope to increase this number. It is a sad fact that the library has benefited from the sale of the RNRS library but I am content that the books are safe and possibly part of ‘the most comprehensive rose library in the world’!

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