Nestled among the beautiful townhouses of the Upper East Side is the Grolier Club, a private club dedicated to the book arts. Founded in 1884 and named for the great French Renaissance bibliophile Jean Grolier, the club hosts eight exhibitions per year. Though the club is private, and membership is by nomination, the exhibits are free and open to the public. We dropped by to see the current exhibits, Selling the Dwelling: The Books That Built America’s Houses, 1775-2000 and Pop-Ups from Prague: A Centennial Celebration of the Graphic Artistry of Vojtech Kubašta (1914-1992) from the Collection of Ellen G. K. Rubin.
The beautiful neo-Georgian townhouse on East 60th Street was designed by Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, a club member, in 1917. When it was founded, the Grolier Club occupied a few rented rooms at 64 Madison Avenue before it moved to a building on East 32nd Street, and finally to East 60th.
The Grolier Club’s mission, as stated in its constitution, is “to foster the study, collecting, and appreciation of books and works on paper, their art, history, production, and commerce.” Since its inception, the club has maintained a collection of books about books, the history of printing and publishing, author and subject bibliographies, exhibition catalogues, rare books and illuminated manuscripts. The library currently holds over 100,000 volumes.
The club comprises a public exhibition/lecture hall on the main floor, the library, rare book room on the second floor, and four meeting rooms. Currently on display in the main exhibition room is a collection of architectural books on American homes from 1775 to 2000, curated by Richard Cheek, an architectural photographer and visual history editor. The display cases are full of beautiful old builder’s guides, dating back to 1775. You can see Robert Bell’s reproduction of The British Architect, credited as the first architectural book published in America.
In the Rare Book Room on the second floor, you can glimpse a fun collection of over 100 pop-up books from early 20th-century Prague. The collection highlights Czech paper engineer and artist Vojtech Kubašta’s love of Mozart, the city of Prague, and children’s stories. Some of the books are quite amazing, especially the Prague castle and the jungle pop-up book.
Though today is the last day to see Selling the Dwelling, Pop-Ups from Prague will be on view until March 15.
During the Gilded Age and at the turn of the century, many private clubs were established to provide like-minded members with a place to socialize. Check out our past coverage of these, including: the Metropolitan Club, the Players Club, the National Arts Club, the Salmagundi Club, the Explorers Club, the Harvard and Yale Clubs.
Get in touch with the author @lauraitzkowitz.