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Grolier Club Exhibitions

Publishers' Bindings

In 1894 the Grolier Club mounted an exhibition of commercial bookbindings, show-casing the latest cover designs of publishers in the United States, England and Europe. The show featured books and original drawings by many of the most important designers of the day, including Alice C. Morse, Elihu Vedder, Aubrey Beardsley (his design for the 1893 Dent edition of Malory’s Morte d’Arthur is shown), and Howard Pyle. In assembling the show the organizers wrote to publishers all over the world asking for binding samples; many responded, not with books, but with unbound “cases” of cloth or leather over boards, minus the text block. Dozens of these cases survive at the Club. Still in beautifully pristine condition, they are a valuable international survey of late-nineteenth century decorated publishers’ bindings.   

New York Book Bindery

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Edward Walker & Sons, New York, 1852.

This broadside announces the May 1, 1852 re-opening of the bindery firm of Edward Walker & Sons, which had been destroyed by fire just five months earlier. The text of the broadside reveals that although Edward Walker & Sons was “devoted to the finer and more costly styles of Book Binding, such as turkey, morocco, russia, English, French & American calf,” the firm also provided cheap edition binding in cloth—a recent innovation which in the 1850s was just beginning to replace the laborious process of binding individual volumes in leather.

Arms of Madame de Pompadour

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Gautier d'Agoty, Jacques-Fabien.

Chroa-génésie ou génération des couleurs, contre le système de Newton. — Paris: Antoine Boudet, 1750-51. 2 volumes.

Supralibros, marks of ownership stamped on the cover of a book, were frequent through the nineteenth century, particularly on bindings of aristocratic or ecclesiastical provenance. Both covers of these volumes, bound in full red morocco in the eighteenth century, bear the gilt coat of arms of Jeanne Antoinette Poisson Le Normant d’Étioles, marquise de Pompadour; they appeared as lot no. 287 in the auction catalogue of her library sold in Paris in 1765. The text, a testament to the marquise’s catholic reading tastes, is a first edition of Jacques-Fabien Gautier d’Agoty’s important treatise on color theory. In Chroa-génésie, Gautier d’Agoty attacks Newton, and attempts to establish his claim of having invented color printing. A canny and tireless entrepreneur, Gautier d’Agoty successfully sued his competitors, and in 1747 he obtained a thirty-year exclusive privilege for color printing in France. He was the first to print anatomical plates in color on a large scale, using and refining the multiple-plate process.

Gift of Jonathan A. Hill, 2003.

Arms of the Von Starhemberg Family

Wessicken, J. G.

Catalogus cunctorum librorum … bibliothecae arcis prosapiae … comitum de Starhemberg … compositus anno MDCCCXXX.

A binding of polished calf in vivid cerise, painted with the arms of the Von Starhemberg family. 

Grolier Club Library

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Third floor reading room, looking north, 1918.


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Synopsis of classification scheme, 1910.

 This exhibition is arranged according to the classification scheme developed for the Grolier Club Library in 1901–1910 by Henry Watson Kent, the Club’s first professional librarian. Kent had been a student in Melvil Dewey’s first class at the newly formed Columbia School of Library Service, and the Grolier classification scheme owes much to the Dewey Decimal System.