The Collectors Behind the Collection
Two collectors dominate the collection of manuscripts in Hebrew script in the Rylands: Enriqueta Rylands (1843-1908) and Moses Gaster (1856-1939). Enriqueta Rylands was the founder of the library, which opened to the public in 1900 as a memorial to her husband John. He had been one of the cotton kings of Victorian Manchester, and had left her his vast fortune on his death. Moses Gaster was a learned Romanian Jew who found his way to England and became the Haham (the chief rabbi) of the Spanish and Portuguese community in London. Both were cosmopolitan. Enriqueta was born in Cuba and had lived in New York, Paris and London. Moses was thought to know 14 languages, and had lived in Romania, Germany and England.
But their collections could hardly be more different, and the Rylands collections covers a wider breadth of subjects.
In 1906, Moses offered Enriqueta a collection (we don’t know exactly what), but she refused it, partly on the grounds of price.