Finding Aid to the Grabhorn Letterpress Printing Ephemera Collection

Finding aid created by Book Arts and Special Collections Center staff using RecordEXPRESS
San Francisco Public Library. Book Arts and Special Collections Center
San Francisco Public Library
100 Larkin Street
San Francisco, California 94102
(415) 557-4567

Descriptive Summary

Title: Finding Aid to the Grabhorn Letterpress Printing Ephemera Collection
Dates: 950 CE – 2018 CE (Bulk: 1890-2018 CE)
Collection Number: BASC 1
Creator/Collector: Grabhorn, Robert
Extent: 230.4 Linear Feet; 300 boxes.
Repository: San Francisco Public Library. Book Arts and Special Collections Center
San Francisco, California 94102
Abstract: The collection contains ephemeral materials printed with metal or wood type using a letterpress. Ephemeral materials include: prospectuses, notices, fliers, postcards, broadsides, bookmarks, chapbooks, pamphlets and small books/accordion fold books. The collection dates range from 950 CE (China) to present, with the bulk of the collection ranging from 1890 CE to present. Additions to the Collection are ongoing. The earliest printed materials in the collection come from China and Europe, but the bulk of the collection is from California and the United States of America printed in the 20th century.
Language of Material: English


The Collection is stored onsite and is open for research during Book Arts & Special Collections hours.

Publication Rights

Copyright has not been assigned to the San Francisco Public Library. All requests for permission to publish or quote from materials must be submitted in writing to the department of Book Arts & Special Collections. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the San Francisco Public Library as the owner of the physical items.

Preferred Citation

Finding Aid to the Grabhorn Letterpress Printing Ephemera Collection. San Francisco Public Library. Book Arts and Special Collections Center

Biography/Administrative History

Ephemera has been part of Book Arts & Special Collections since 1925 when William Randolph Young, a library trustee, was instrumental in establishing the Max Kuhl Collection of rare books and manuscripts, after the destruction of the Library’s collection in the 1906 earthquake and fire. Through generous donations and purchases, ephemeral matter was filed into the collection until November 17, 1965 when The Grabhorn Collection on the History of Printing & the Development of the Book was officially presented to the San Francisco Public Library. The Collection contained not only books but single leaves of ephemera printed before the 20th Century, some of which were by significant printers of the 15th and 16th Centuries. City Librarian, William Holman, hailed the acquisition of printer Robert Grabhorn’s personal library as the single most important collection ever to come to the library at one time. Library Commissioner Edward Callanan reported being happy this great collection will be available for public use in a public library, particularly because the printing industry historically has been so important to the development of the City. The ephemera collection is now known as The Grabhorn Letterpress Printing Ephemera Collection. From an early age Robert Grabhorn began collecting the works of printers, with an emphasis on French and Italian printers, type specimens, and books on the subject of hot metal printing, and realized that his collection should remain in San Francisco as a teaching collection. Since its acquisition by the Library, the collection has grown to become one of the most important of its kind. It includes examples of almost every major printer, typographer, and bookmaker since Gutenberg’s time, with the allied fields of bookbinding and papermaking represented as well.

Scope and Content of Collection

The collection consists of letterpress ephemera representing over 1,770 printers and presses from all over the world, but predominately from the San Francisco Bay area collected by the San Francisco Public Library. The collection ranges in date from 950 CE to the present, with the bulk of the materials dating from 1890-present. Represented in the collection is a variety of printers, including several printers from incunabula period (pre-1500 in Europe), and items printed in Asia, Europe, and North America. The bulk of the collection contains a large selection of printers and presses from the United States, especially California of the 20th and 21st centuries. The range of materials include single leaf specimens, prospectuses, postcards, stationary, business cards, job printing and thin/accordion fold books from Europe and the Americas, with a few examples of Oriental printing. Some of the printers and presses represented include: The Song Dynasty, The Yuan Dynasty, Johann Gutenberg, Johann Fust & Peter Schoeffer, Anton Sorg, Erhard Radolt, Anton Koberger, Johann Zainer, Gunther Zainer, Aldus Manutius the Elder, Aldus Manutius the Younger, Nicolas Jenson, Henri Estienne II, Robert Estienne, William Blake, 18th century Broadside Ballads and Chapbooks, Joachin Ibara, Agustin B. Zamorano and José de la Rosa, Benjamin Franklin, Isaiah Thomas, Thomas Bewick, John Henry Nash, Bruce Rogers, Robin Price, and Peter Koch. Some of the presses included are: The Aldine Press, The Plantin Press, The Kelmscott Press, The Ashendene Press, The Vale Press, The Doves Press, The Eragny Press, The Daniel Press, The Golden Cockerel Press, The Grabhorn Press, The Grace Hopper Press, The Merrymount Press, The Greenwood Press, The Peregrine Press, The White Rabbit Press, The Press in Tuscany Alley, The Gehenna Press, The Perishable Press, The Yolla Bolly Press, The Arion Press, The Ninja Press, The Moving Parts Press, The Ward Ritchie Press, and The Turkey Press.

Indexing Terms

Letterpress printing -- Specimens
Printing -- History -- Specimens
Printing -- Specimens
Printing -- Early works to 1800 -- Specimens
Printing -- History -- 19th Century --Specimens
Printing -- History -- 20th Century -- Specimens
Printing -- California -- San Francisco -- Specimens
Printed Ephemera -- Specimens
Fine books -- Specimens

Additional collection guides