Arthur R. G. Solmssen, 89, a Philadelphia lawyer and novelist whose books captured the essence of life on the Main Line and in Germany during the first half of the 20th century, died Monday, April 23, of congestive heart failure at his home in Bryn Mawr.

Arthur R.G. Solmssen
Courtesy of the family
Arthur R.G. Solmssen

Born in New York, Mr. Solmssen spent his early childhood in Berlin, where his grandfather had been a leader in the banking business. He came to Whitemarsh at age 8 in 1936, speaking only German. Later, he lived in Gladwyne and then Bryn Mawr.

He flourished at the Miquon School, and graduated from Harvard College with a bachelor of arts degree in history in 1950, and from the Law School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1953.

In 1945, as World War II was ending, he interrupted his education to enlist in the U.S. Army and served in the postwar occupation forces in Germany. Afterward, in 1953, he joined Saul, Ewing, Remick & Saul, one of Philadelphia's high-profile law firms.

By day, Mr. Solmssen handled public finance and securities cases. By night, he wrote, weaving the threads of his experiences into a tapestry of words.

Robert J. Jones, a former partner in Saul Ewing and longtime friend, said he once asked Mr. Solmssen where he got the time to write. "I don't play golf, and I don't play bridge, and I love to write" was the reply.

Mr. Solmssen's skill as a writer and observer became evident with the publication of his first novel, Rittenhouse Square, by Little Brown & Co. in 1968.

The story is about a young securities lawyer at a big law firm who is temporarily assigned to the public defender's office. What he sees there makes him question his professional and personal choices.

In a June 9, 1968, review, the Inquirer wrote: "Philadelphia legal, society and ghetto scenes all serve as background for this very competent first novel by a local attorney who exhibits a sound narrative sense and the ability to re-create the full impact of courtroom drama. It is a story that moves, guided by a knowing hand."

Mr. Solmssen's second novel was the 1971 Alexander's Feast. His third in 1980 was A Princess in Berlin, the story of an American artist and his love for a beautiful Jewish woman in pre-Nazi Germany. Both books were published by Little Brown.

"What motivated him to write was he wanted to tell stories about life in the law in Philadelphia," Jones said. "A Princess in Berlin wasn't set here, but it had a Philadelphia lawyer involved."

Because the novel provided a portrait of Germany just before World War II, it was translated into many languages and is used as a reference in many European history courses, Mr. Solmssen's family said. It is popular in Germany.

The book won the Athenaeum Literary Award in 1980. The award recognizes the literary achievements of Philadelphians.

The 1986, Takeover Time was his next book. The Comfort Letter, published in 2002, has been quoted in several legal textbooks as a realistic depiction of the ethical dilemmas that corporate lawyers face in their practices, his family said.

His last novels, The Wife of Shore and The Pilot and the Playwright, were self-published.

While at Saul Ewing, Mr. Solmssen helped clients raise capital for public projects such as schools and sewer systems. He assisted with securities offerings and making sure clients complied with the regulations governing finance, Jones said.

He is credited with coining the terms tipper and tippee for insider trading offenders, his family said.

After Mr. Solmssen retired in 1988, he enjoyed working as an arbitrator in federal securities litigation, recording books for the blind, and maintaining his tradition of wearing felt hats in the winter and straw hats in the summer.

He was a director of the Defender Association of Philadelphia and a member of the Franklin Inn Club and the Philadelphia Club.

"He was a great companion to all who knew him, whether in Saul Ewing conference rooms or in the civic and social spaces of our city," Jones said.

Peter York Solmssen, Mr. Solmssen's eldest son, said the household was blessed with interesting, challenging dinner-table conversation.

"He cared about what we thought. It was thoughtful, intellectual dialogue with his children and grandchildren, regardless of their ages," his son said.

In addition to his eldest son, Mr. Solmssen is survived by his wife, Marsha Moffat York Solmssen; sons Kurt A. Solmssen and Arthur R. G. Solmssen Jr.; eight grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter.

Memorial services were private.