University of Rochester Library Bulletin: Our Grabhorn Press Books

Volume XV • SPRING 1960 · Number 3
Our Grabhorn Press Books

When Mr. Elmer Adler, well-known authority on printing and former Rochesterian, gave our Library theBibliography of the Grabhorn Press by Dorothy and David Magee last January, he not only gave us a very beautiful book, but he stimulated our interest in the Grabhorn Press. As a result, we surveyed our collection of Grabhorn Press books and found we had almost enough examples of the work of this fine San Francisco press to make an exhibit. A letter to the press brought a list of recent publications that were available and the offer of some "ephemera" for the exhibit. A few booksellers' catalogues listing Grabhorn Press books arrived at just the right time, so it was possible to add several titles to the collection very promptly. By mid-March there were seventy Grabhorn Press books and pamphlets in the Library, and the exhibit was placed in the lobby of Rush Rhees Library to remain there until May.

The Bibliography of the Grabhorn Press which Mr. Adler gave us is notable not only because it is one of the finest examples of Grabhorn Press printing, but also because it has an "Introduction" by Mr. Adler, in which he very ably sketches the history of fine press books in general and the work of the Grabhorns in particular. One should not forget the tremendous task that Dorothy and David Magee set themselves in compiling this detailed description of the publications of the Grabhorn Press from 1940 to 1956, and the great success with which they accomplished it; but for Mr. Adler's many friends in Rochester the "Introduction" cannot fail to be of outstanding interest, for in it he cites his own relationship with the Grabhorn Press, which began when he was a resident of Rochester, and gives us a splendid evaluation of its work.

The Grabhorn Press began some forty-five years ago in Indianapolis, when Edwin Grabhorn started printing under the name of the Studio Press. Shortly after the end of World War I the press was moved to San Francisco, where it has grown and prospered as the Grabhorn Press, whose personnel number four Grabhorns—Edwin, Robert, Jane and Mary—and Sherwood Grover. Printing of all kinds, from Christmas cards to large folios, has come from this press since its first San Francisco imprint appeared in 1920. The variety of its work is only equalled by its excellence. The coveted honor bestowed each year by the American Institute of Graphic Arts upon fifty examples of fine printing was first achieved by the Grabhorn Press in 1926 and subsequently repeated many times. In fact, some years two or three Grabhorn books have been listed among the "Fifty Books of the Year."

The range of subjects covered by the books and pamphlets that have come from the Grabhorn Press is indeed broad, but certain fields have received more attention than others. In general, as one peruses the Bibliography of the Grabhorn Press, the history of California and of the western part of the United States stands out as the predominant subject. This is also true of the collection in our Library, which includes Campaigns in the West, 1856-1861the Journal and Letters of Colonel John Van Deusen Du Bois, with Pencil Sketches by Joseph Heger. Published by the Arizona Pioneers Historical Society in 1949, this important source book on campaigns in New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah is a splendid example of the way in which the Grabhorns excel in their choice of types and their setting of a complex text to make it readable and beautiful at the same time. Our copy was purchased from the fund given in memory of Trafton Boulls, '20, as were three other historical works from this press:Spanish Occupation of Calfornia, published in 1934; New Helvetia Diary, a Record of Events Kept by John A. Sutter, published in arrangement with the Society of California Pioneers in 1939; and Pioneers of the Sacramento, published by the Book Club of California in 1953, with an introduction by Jane Grabhorn.

Another outstanding example of Western Americana produced by the Grabhorn Press is Carl I. Wheat's Mapping the Transmississippi West, 1540-1861. Published by the Institute of Historical Cartography in San Francisco, the three volumes which have appeared between 1957 and 1959 are filled with excellent reproductions of maps of the western part of the United States, clearly described in Mr. Wheat's text. This purchase was made from the Raymond Ball Fund.

American literature has also been one of the major subjects represented in the work of the Grabhorns. Our earliest example of their printing is the poem by Bret Harte, Dickens in Camp, which was published by John Howell in San Francisco in 1922. Another Bret Harte title from their press is Mliss, published in 1948. The illustrations by Mallette Dean were "inspired by mid-Victorian primitives, printed in color from various materials—textiles, sandpaper, leather and linoleum." Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter, illustrated with wood blocks designed and engraved by Valenti Angelo, was printed by the Grabhorns for Random House in 1928. Our copy was purchased from the fund given in memory of Earl Wesley Rubens, '35. One of the most attractive Grabhorn books is The Encantadas; or, Enchanted Isles, by Herman Melville, which was published by William P. Wreden at Burlingame, California, in 1940, with illustrations by Mallette Dean. While nineteenth-century American authors predominate in the literary works printed by the Grabhorns, contemporary writers also are included in theBibliography. We are fortunate in having Robinson Jeffers' Poems published by the Book Club of California in 1928, and said to be one of the scarcest of Jeffers' first editions. Its popularity is deserved, for the beauty of the printing is enhanced by initial letters designed by Valenti Angelo, and by a photographic portrait by Ansel Adams. Our copy was purchased from the Charles C. Puffer Memorial Fund. We also have Jeffers' Return, anUnpublished Poem, printed by the Grabhorn Press for Gelber, Lilienthal, Inc., in 1934. Edwin Arlington Robinson's Fortunatus, published by the Slide Mountain Press at Reno in 1928, is another example of contemporary American writing printed by the Grabhorns. It too was purchased from the Puffer Fund.

Walt Whitman's Song of the Redwood Tree, printed "for the friends of Silverado Squatters, Bohemian Grove, 1954," is one of the pamphlets donated by the Grabhorns especially for our exhibit. One of their greatest achievements, Whitman's Leaves of Grass, considered by many to be the finest example of their printing, is unfortunately not in our collection. The closest we come to it is the initial S on the half-title of the Song of the Redwood Tree, which was designed by Valenti Angelo for the Leaves of Grass but not used in that publication.

English literature is also represented in the Bibliography. A series of Shakespeare's plays was begun with the publication of The Tempest in 1951, using the text of the First Folio of 1623. Although we lack this title, we do have The Tragedie of Othello, the Moore of Venice, published in 1956, and The Tragedie of King Lear, published in 1959, both illustrated by Mary Grabhorn, and both purchased from the fund given by Mrs. Charles Hoeing in memory of Dean Hoeing. From this fund we also purchased the beautiful three-volume set of The Comedy of Dante Alighieri, translated by Mary Prentice Lillie and published by the Grabhorn Press in 1958.

Our most recent acquisition from the Grabhorn Press illustrates the breadth of subject matter covered in its publications, for it is outside the fields already mentioned. Figure Prints of Old Japan, a Pictorial Pageant of Actors and Courtesans of the Eighteenth Century, Reproduced from the Prints in the Collection of Marjorie & Edwin Grabhorn, with an Introduction by Harold P. Stern is one of the most beautiful books published by anyAmerican press in recent years. It was printed by the Grabhorns for the Book Club of California in 1959.

The list of publishers for whom the Grabhorns have produced books is almost as long as the list of titles published. Among those already mentioned, the Book Club of California has published the largest number of outstanding Grabhorn books. The Roxburghe Club of San Francisco is a close second, and the Bohemian Club, the Society of California Pioneers, and the Arizona Pioneers Historical Society have also been the sponsors of some of the finest work of the Grabhorn Press. Booksellers and publishers such as Random House, John Howell, George Fields, W. P. Wreden, and Dawson's Book Shop have been responsible for a number of good titles. Ransohoffs, a women's apparel shop in San Francisco, enlarged its scope to become the publishers of several excellent Grabhorn books. The many publishers who have used the Grabhorn Press have brought distinction to themselves in so doing, and, regardless of who may have been the publisher, a Grabhorn book is still unquestionably a Grabhorn product, characterized by that high degree of art which combines simplicity, strength, skilful use of color, and variety of types to make a book that is both beautiful and readable.

In preparing a group of books for an exhibit one is always struck by the fact that many of them have come to the Library as gifts or have been purchased from funds given to the Library. This was certainly true of the exhibit of Grabhorn books, which had its inception in Mr. Adler's gift, and was made possible by the use of a number of special funds which have been mentioned earlier in this article. Three funds not previously named, the Sarah McGuire Fund, the Milo Gifford Kellogg Fund, and the fund given in memory of Edmund Lyon, '77, were also drawn upon for the acquisition of Grabhorn books. It is a pleasure to record our appreciation to all the donors who have made it possible for us to have such a representative collection of beautiful books produced by the Grabhorns.