The value of 800 rare books at the center of a legal dispute between the executors of Maurice Sendak's will and the Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia is estimated at $1.65 million, according to a figure offered by the Sendak estate in probate court filings. But the Rosenbach, which is suing Sendak's estate, puts the value much higher.
The financial report sketches out the scale and value of the collection over which the Rosenbach filed its lawsuit. Sendak's will calls for the Rosenbach to receive all of his rare books, but the Sendak estate has turned over only 349 of the 800 volumes, with that portion valued at $720,000.
The Sendak estate apparently aims to keep the rest, 451, for itself, but the Nov. 3 Rosenbach suit asks probate court in Fairfield County, Conn., near where the writer and artist lived, to carry out Sendak's wish that the Rosenbach receive "all of my rare edition books." The estate has not turned over several valuable volumes by Peter Rabbit author Beatrix Potter, the suit states, because it considers them to be children's books, not rare books.
To claim this kind of distinction, the suit contends, "either demonstrates that the executors are shockingly ignorant of Mr. Sendak's views" or "is a bad-faith effort on the part of the executors to manufacture some basis" for claiming the books as property of the estate rather than the Rosenbach.
Also among the 451 books the estate is keeping for itself are two particularly valuable illuminated books by William Blake, Songs of Experience and Songs of Innocence, which the estate claims cannot be considered rare books because one lacks a binding and the other has pages that do not correspond to another copy of the same title.
The Rosenbach suit says the estate plans to sell the Blakes, which by themselves could fetch several million dollars.
Rosenbach representatives declined to comment on the suit. A lawyer for the Sendak estate did not respond to messages.
The financial filing of Nov. 26 is first and foremost a financial document; Sendak's entire estate - encompassing books and artwork, cash, investments, and real estate - is valued at $65.8 million. But it also represents the focused passions of an essentially late-19th-century collector who fueled his own work by surrounding himself with rare and, it turns out, valuable art and literature.
Many of these interests were nourished at the Rosenbach, which Sendak first visited in the 1960s. The more than 10,000 items written and illustrated by Sendak himself, which he placed on deposit at the museum and library on Delancey Place at 20th Street, are valued in the latest filings at $17.5 million. The ownership of these items, which have already left the Rosenbach, was clearly left to Sendak's estate, and is neither in dispute nor part of any current litigation.
The Rosenbach, however, has asked the court to compel the estate to come to an agreement with the Rosenbach for the continued display of Sendak's works in Philadelphia. In his will, Sendak asked that the two groups work out such an arrangement, but left no instructions about the scale or frequency of continued exhibitions at the Rosenbach.
The latest filing is also a status report on the distribution of items, real estate, and other assets Sendak left to various individuals and institutions. Already distributed:
A collection of manuscripts and letters left to the Rosenbach, written by Mozart, the Brothers Grimm, and Herman Melville, and valued at $925,000.
Photographs bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, valued at $6.3 million.
Costumes and sets worth $2.5 million, to the Morgan Library & Museum.
Two walking sticks owned by Beatrix Potter and her husband, valued at $5,000, to London's Beatrix Potter Society.
Sendak's will also left to the discretion of his estate how his collection of Mickey Mouse items would be split. The Sendak estate chose to give the Rosenbach items valued at $4,000, keeping $570,000 worth of Mickey Mousiana for itself.