Nestled behind a Romanesque-inspired Methodist Church on 59th St and Park Avenue, entering the Grolier Club conjures a spiritual experience. A private club for the most esteemed bibliophiles, many public exhibitions and lectures are offered in their first and second floor galleries. One day, you might even be granted access to the heavenly third floor, aka the Holy Grail of All Things Bookish: the Grolier Club Library (ok, ok, all you really have to do is ask).
Main exhibition hall at the Grolier Club / my preferred house of worship.
In 1937, occupied with “proof-reading, folding printed sheets, hounding delinquent clients, [and] writing letters and even introductions to books” in her husband and brother-in-law’s Grabhorn Press, Jane Bissell Grabhorn “suddenly revolted and decided to do some printing of her own and by herself” (Grabhorn “Mea Culpa”). The act of revolt on Grabhorn’s part would become just one instance of many in which she would defy expectations through her printing enterprise, the Jumbo Press, which she operated single-handedly from 1937 until her death in 1973. Employing typography and print to express feminist thought processes in her hand-press productions of satire, wit, and ephemera, Grabhorn exclusively utilized letterpress printing as a place of rebellion. As Grabhorn notes in her 1937 A Typografic Discourse, a piece originally published as part of the volume, Bookmaking on the Distaff Side, her press realizes the ways in which women’s work might reimagine the male-dominated sphere of printing and its influences: “Jumbo stripped the mask from typography’s Medicine-Men and their disciples have seen them as they are: —pompous, tottering pretenders, mouthing conceits and sweating decadence” (8). Grabhorn’s perspectives on the art of printing itself would prove to continually subvert expectations of women’s roles—and more importantly, the increasing relevance of the female printer’s place in printing history.
Jane Grabhorn printing on the Washington hand press, ca. 1945 (Princeton University Libraries)