LASTING IMPRESSIONS. THE GROLIER CLUB LIBRARY
Edited by Eric Holzenberg and J Fernando Pena. The Grolier Club. Winterhouse Editions (distributed by the University of Chicago Press), 2004. 224pp. ISBN 0-910672-52-0. $US50.
THE GROLIER CLUB, founded in 1884 and located at 47th East 60th Street in New York, is America’s oldest, and, argued by some, most exclusive, bibliophilic society. The Club was formed after a meeting on January 23 1884 in New York when printing press manufacturer and book collector Robert Hoe met with eight others of similar interests to discuss the formation of a club devoted to the book arts.
The Grolier Club has enrolled just over three thousand members in its history and currently numbers over seven hundred members, mostly American, but it does include a number of English, European, and Asian bibliophiles as well. Australian membership (if any) is not stated. Membership is by nomination, and recommendations for membership are made on the basis of a candidate’s passion for books, as revealed in his or her activities as a collector, scholar, librarian, printer, or participation in some other bookish pursuit.
Named after Jean Grolier, the famous Renaissance collector, the Club’s objective is (to quote from its Constitution) “the literary study and promotion of the arts pertaining to the production of books, including the occasional publication of books designed to illustrate, promote and encourage those arts; and the acquisition, furnishing and maintenance of a suitable club building for the safekeeping of its property, wherein meetings, lectures and exhibitions shall take place from time to time, likewise designed to illustrate, promote and encourage those arts …”
The Grolier Club exhibitions, all open to the public free of charge, and their accompanying catalogues are models of their type and many catalogues have become standard reference works. In recent years the Club has become increasingly recognised, outside of its membership, as a cultural institution of major standing, both nationally and internationally. For details of the Club and its services see the Grolier Club website http://www.grolierclub.org/
The growth in the collections has continued to place stress on available space in the Manhattan, New York location. The Club occupies a neo-Georgian six-story townhouse building principally including the public exhibition/lecture hall, the Library, and several specialist areas. The newest of these is the Phillipps Room, housing an outstanding collection of books, manuscripts and ephemera relating to the famous nineteenth century collector Sir Thomas Phillipps.
In 2004 the Club celebrated its one hundred and twentieth birthday with an exhibition of treasures from the Library which was held from 12 May to 31 July. Lasting Impressions, which stemmed from that exhibition, is compiled by the Director and Librarian of the Grolier Club, Eric Holzenberg, and the Curator, J Fernando Pena. Lasting Impressions is the first comprehensive history of the Library and its treasures. The Library, which provides a research and information service, not only for the Grolier members, but also for accredited researchers, has been somewhat neglected in the Club’s own extensive publication programmes.
The Grolier Club 1884-1967, an Informal History by John T Winterich contained details of the Library’s history up to 1967, while the series of essays in The Grolier Club 1884-1984: Its Library Exhibitions and Publications also documented some of the Library’s history and treasures. Both books, however, are long out of print, and neither provides the comprehensive overview of the present volume.
From the small initial collection of three hundred volumes, the Library has now become a major research collection on printing and related book arts, totalling over 100,000 volumes. The Library aims “to gather together for the members all the standard bibliographic works, as well as books relating to the art of printing”. Many of the outstanding treasures have been gifts from Club members including Samuel Putnam Avery, Lionel and Philip Robinson, Mark Lathrop Harper and the Horblits. Of prime research significance is the collection of nearly fifty thousand bookseller and book auction catalogues, which is reputed to be the largest archive in America of such material.
Lasting Impressions contains descriptions and illustrations of the most significant items, organised by subjects such as bibliography, typography, and book illustration. Treasures include: an illuminated manuscript of St Gregory’s Moralia In Job; the 1467 Subiaco edition of St Augustine’s City of God; the 1504 edition of Homer printed by Aldus Manutius and illuminated for Jean Grolier, and from the more recent period the papers of John Fleming, E P Goldschmidt and The Brick Row Bookshop.
Jean Grolier, as quoted by Holzenberg, believed that books were “dynamic and living messages”. The Club and its Library are certainly sending the right messages with the first-ever online catalogue and a newly-established
Fellowship program providing grants to researchers in the art and history of the book. Lasting Impressions, with its authoritative text and over three hundred black and white and colour illustrations, certainly provides its own impressive bibliophilic quality message.