History

Welcome to the Grolier Club!

Here you’ll be able to find updates on the goings-on in our Library, our program of exhibitions, and the exciting progress through the end of November 2018 as we renovate our exhibition hall and lobby.

History

On the evening of January 23, 1884, New York printing press manufacturer and book collector Robert Hoe invited to his home eight fellow bibliophiles to discuss the formation of a club devoted to the book arts. Although the nine men differed in age, occupation and social position, they shared the opinion that the arts of printing and typography in late 19th-century America were in need of reform.

Hoe and his associates were all involved in the editing, design, production, sale or acquisition of fine books, and his invitation fired their imaginations. They were also men of action, and before the evening ended, a resolution had been adopted specifying the purpose of the organization, a committee had been appointed to choose a name for the group, and another to draft a constitution. Within two weeks, a suggestion that the fledgling organization call itself after the great French bibliophile Jean Grolier (1489/90-1565) had been passed by acclamation, a constitution duly drawn up, and “The Grolier Club of the City of New-York” was a going concern.

Mission

The object of the Grolier Club (to quote from its Constitution) is “to foster the study, collecting, and appreciation of books and works on paper, their art, history, production, and commerce. It shall pursue this mission through the maintenance of a library devoted to all aspects of the book and graphic arts and especially bibliography; through the occasional publication of books designed to illustrate, promote and encourage the book and graphic arts; through exhibitions and educational programs for its members and the general public; and through the maintenance of a Club building for the safekeeping of its property, and otherwise suitable for the purposes of the Club.”

Membership

Breaking that description down into its constituent parts, the Grolier Club is, first of all, a fellowship of men and women devoted to books and the graphic arts. The Club currently numbers nearly 800 members, mostly American, but including a number of English, European, and Asian bibliophiles as well. Membership is by nomination, and recommendations for membership are made on the basis of a candidate’s passion for books, as demonstrated by his or her outstanding activity as a collector, scholar, librarian, printer, or participation in some other bookish pursuit.

Publications and Exhibitions

The Grolier Club’s founders intended the Grolier Club to lead by example in promoting the book arts, and its Constitution explicitly provided for the “occasional publication of books” designed to further that purpose. There is a very close relationship between the publication program of the Grolier Club and its century-old series of exhibitions.  The Club’s exhibition hall is the vital center of the organization, the place where its mission—the documentation, illustration, promotion and encouragement of the book arts—is communicated to the book-loving public.

Library

Another central focus is the Grolier Club Library. The theme of this 100,000-volume collection is books about books—author and subject bibliographies (including many rare and early examples), histories of printing, publishing and collecting, and exhibition catalogues—coupled with a modest-sized but quite fine teaching collection of examples, from illuminated manuscripts and leaves from the 42-Line Gutenberg Bible to modern private press books.

But the research core of the Library, the material that draws scholars, is the 60,000-volume collection of bookseller and book auction catalogues. For over a hundred years the Club has solicited and made available to its members the current catalogues of every major European and American antiquarian book dealer and auction house. When these became outdated they were not discarded, as often happens, but carefully filed away. To this core collection have been added rare English and European catalogues from the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries, the result being a uniquely valuable archive of the antiquarian book trade and of book collecting.

Clubhouse

Growth of the Library collections, increased membership, and steady expansion of its public programs have forced the Grolier Club to seek larger quarters more than once in the last 125 years. The present Clubhouse is a neo-Georgian town-house on East 60th Street in Midtown Manhattan. Designed for the Club in 1917 by member Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, the six-story building holds—barely—a public exhibition/lecture hall, the Library, and several book-lined conference and meeting rooms.

Visitors to the Club often comment on the air of peace and tranquility pervading these rooms, but it is actually quite a busy place, and more active now than at any period in its past. The Grolier has always been more than a private bibliophile society, but in recent years the Club has taken on the responsibilities of a cultural institution of national, even international stature. The Grolier Club sponsors an increasing number of book-related lectures these days, often in partnership with other bibliophilic organizations; its publications reach broader audiences; Grolier exhibits regularly attract notice in the press, and are more heavily attended by the general public than in the past; and the Library has long outgrown its original function as a reference collection for Grolier Club members, and is now gaining a reputation of its own in the scholarly community. The Club does not subscribe to the notion that the advent of computer technology necessarily signals the end of l’histoire du livre; on the contrary, if the past decade is any indication, the Grolier Club’s second century of involvement in the book arts promises to be even more exciting and productive than its first.