Jacques Rosenthal, whose birth name was Jakob, was born in Bavaria and grew up in a family of art- and book-dealers. In 1874, at the age of 19, he joined the firm his older brother Ludwig had established in Munich. In 1878, he was sent on a commercial mission to Paris, where he developed his knowledge of rare books with librarian Léopold Delisle and bookseller Anatole Claudin. The year he spent there was a life-changing experience – as a true Francophile, he even changed his name to Jacques.
In 1895, Rosenthal decided to open his own bookshop in Munich, first located in Karlstrasse 10. Through his international network and professional expertise, his firm enjoyed such considerable success that it moved in 1911 to a larger building in Briennerstrasse 47. Besides the family’s accommodation, various offices, and the warehouse, this four-storey house included several exhibition rooms, decorated with paintings by Old Masters and historical artefacts, including a 16th-century globe and an Italian Renaissance altarpiece; it was said to be one of the most luxurious book lovers’ spots in Germany.
Over the years, Rosenthal produced almost one hundred sale catalogues, of which Bibliotheca medii aevi (1925 and 1928) are of particular note for the 200 manuscripts they contained, collaborated with the renowned scholars Konrad Haebler and Ernst Schulz, and was awarded distinctions from the Bavarian, Prussian, and French rulers. The end of his brilliant career was marked by an exhibition of sumptuous manuscripts from American collector Alfred Chester Beatty’s collection, held in his shop on 1 April 1933, the same day when the boycott of Jewish businesses began in Germany. In 1935, his son Erwin sold the firm and migrated first to Switzerland and later to America. Continuing the family tradition, Erwin’s sons, Albi and Bernard, themselves became successful book-dealers in Oxford and Berkeley.