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A Book Lover’s Haven Turns 100 (The New York Times)

After extensive renovations, the Grolier Club New York has opened again to the public. The New York Times spoke to director Eric Holzenberg.
Published on 24 Jan. 2019
Grolier Club NY Times

From The New York Times, Jan. 17, 2019:  The Grolier Club, the nation’s oldest society of bibliophiles, just celebrated the centennial of its grand Manhattan home. Yes, there’s a secret staircase hidden in a bookshelf. No, do not use gloves in its library.

Last month it celebrated the centennial of its Georgian-style building and the renovation of its ground-floor exhibition hall with a week of events, including a talk by Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress.

The club, which has roughly 800 members, is named for Jean Grolier, a 16th-century French high official and book collector known for commissioning exquisite bindings. The Latin motto on his bookplate — “Io. Grolierii et Amicorum,” or “belonging to Jean Grolier and his friends” — represents the ethic of sharing and sociability the club embodies.

Many of the exhibitions are drawn from members’ own collections, which include incunabula (books from the first half-century after the introduction of movable type in Europe around 1455) and fine bindings, but also science fiction, zines, punk rock ephemera, bookmarks, valentines. One member even has a sideline in printed paper sleeves for coffee cups.

Grolier Club Holzenberg
The club’s director, Eric Holzenberg. Credit: George Etheredge for The New York Times

“The universe of printed matter is enormous,” Mr. Holzenberg said. “It includes the high and the low, the beautiful and the ugly, the significant and the really, really insignificant. There’s a lot of value in a big enough collection of really, really insignificant objects. It can tell you something really interesting.”

As a collection of people, the club has historically exhibited a distinct pattern: male, older, white, well-heeled, often bowtied.

Grolier Club NY In recent years, it has pushed to diversify, both in terms of members (though “cultural diversity,” as Mr. Holzenberg put it, remains a work in progress), and what they collect.

Sarah Funke Butler, a private curator, said the number of women and younger people had increased since she joined 13 years ago. “The top hat to high heel ratio has really leveled off,” she said.

The metaphor may be fancy, but members’ tastes often are not. “I think what’s new is a growing realization that a collection does not have to be expensive to be a collection,” Ms. Butler said.

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ILAB Symposium at Grolier Club New York, March 5, 2019: 

The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB), Grolier Club New York and the Association of Antiquarian Booksellers of America (ABAA) will jointly sponsor a symposium at Grolier Club NY on March 5, 2019: Who Owned This? Libraries and the Rare Book Trade consider issues surrounding Provenance, Theft and Forgery

The event will take place on the Tuesday before the New York Book Fair opens, giving many ILAB affiliates a chance to attend. The symposium will also be filmed and made available online a short while after the event has taken place via the Grolier Club video channel. This video will be available to all.

Many ILAB affiliates are faced with the increasing demands from institutions to have strong provenance on materials they buy. Booksellers need to know how to deal with this, and have a good understanding of what information libraries need. Attending libraries will have an opportunity to hear how these issues affect our trade and what the trade is doing about provenance, stolen books and theft.


Image Credits: all images by George Etheredge for The New York Times
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