David Latchman

My Haggadah Collection: Forever Incomplete?

Every collector enjoys the thrill of the chase and the pleasure of finally completing a specific collection. Striving to get a complete collection of a certain type of book is rendered much easier when there is an available bibliography listing all examples.

As Pesach approaches, I have been looking at the bibliography of Haggadot printed in England. The bibliography was produced by Ruth Lehmann and printed in the volume Remember the Days, produced by the Jewish Historical Society in 1966 in honour of the Anglo-Jewish historian, Cecil Roth.

After many years of collecting, I have 60 of the 62 different Haggadot she lists – excluding the seven Reform/Liberal ones listed in the bibliography, which I do not collect. When the different editions of each Haggadah are included, the list stretches to 137 examples, of which I have 129. There has been a thrill in my accumulation of this English Pesach collection.

Perhaps surprisingly those I am missing are not the earliest ones or even some deluxe limited editions. For example, the two out of 62 I am missing entirely are undated, cheaply produced ones, issued early in the last century by the short-lived publishing firms of Topilowsky and Topilowsky & Shapiro. These items would probably have been discarded by a bookseller as not worth even cataloguing ( – if anyone does have these, please do reach out to me!)

The three partners, Moses, Isaac and Jacob, produced a simple Hebrew Haggadah

In contrast, I have the earliest Haggadot printed in England in 1770. Some truly fascinating books. Like the Siddurim I discussed in an earlier blog, these were two rival productions, one produced by the three partners, Moses, Isaac and Jacob and the other produced by the Alexanders. The three partners produced a simple Haggadah in Hebrew only (illustrated above). As with the Siddur however, Alexander went one better, producing the first Haggadah with an English translation as well as having an engraved frontispiece (illustrated below).

The engraved frontispiece of the first Haggadah with an English translation printed in England, by the Alexander printing house.

He also produced two different versions, both of which I have. Ruth Lehmann lists a 96-page version which includes all the songs sung by Ashkenazim at the end of the Seder. There is also however a 77- page version for Sephardim lacking the songs they omit. The list ends with Alexander’s colophon/printer device showing it is not just the Ashkenazi version with pages missing (illustrated below). This, of course, illustrates the even greater pleasure a collector gets when finding something missed by a bibliographer.

The last page of the 77-page Sephardic edition of the Alexander Haggadah, omitting the poems and songs sung by Ashkenazim at the end of the Seder.

As we have seen previously, the three printers went bankrupt whilst Alexander’s business flourished. The bibliography lists four more editions of his Haggadah, including the fully illustrated large format 4th edition. I have the second, fourth and fifth editions but not the third which is one of my eight missing editions.

Ruth Lehmann notes that – like the missing Afikomon piece on Seder Night – she has not seen a copy and does not know the date. Is it possible that it does not exist? Perhaps Alexander went straight from 2nd to 4th to show potential buyers how successful his Haggadah was? Or maybe one of my fellow collectors or a bookseller can exonerate Alexander by indicating they have a copy of the elusive 3rd edition and perhaps offering it to me at a reasonable price? If you know of the copy’s whereabouts, please do reach out. It would give me great pleasure to add this to my collection, if not in time for this Pesach, then for the next.

About the Author
Professor David Latchman, CBE, is a leading UK academic, author, and philanthropist, and currently holds the position of Vice-Chancellor of Birkbeck University of London, having led the university since 2003. Latchman holds First-class Honours in Natural Sciences, a MA, and a PhD, and has completed a three-year post-doctoral fellowship at Imperial College London. He also has a DSc (higher doctorate) from the University of London.