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The Grolier Club

· The Grolier Club,Caroline Schimmel,New York City,Ethel M Chapman,Halifax

When we get an internet order for a book, I will google the person’s name and location in order to get some idea about our customer. And after I ship the book to the customer, I send along an e-mail advising the purchaser that the book has been sent, advising about tracking, if necessary, and thanking them for the order. Sometimes, we have a bit of back and forth. Sometimes, this collectively tells me that the book is going to “the right place”. I do care.

And this happened just a few days ago. When I googled (I guess this is a real word now!) the name, I found out a lot about the person, including the fact that this purchaser belonged to The Grolier Club. Holy Smokes, I thought - an order from on high!! We have a substantial collection of “Books About Books” in our personal library, all of them read over the past almost 50 years. And I have come across a number of references to The Grolier Club. The mightiest of book collectors and book people belonged to this elitist organization. Here are several photos and some information taken from their website.

The Grolier Club

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Founded in 1884, the Grolier Club is America’s oldest and largest society for bibliophiles and enthusiasts in the graphic arts. Named for Jean Grolier (1489/90-1565), the Renaissance collector renowned for sharing his library with friends, the Club’s objective is to promote “the study, collecting, and appreciation of books and works on paper.” Through the concerted efforts of an international network of over eight hundred men and women—book and print collectors, antiquarian book dealers, librarians, designers, fine printers, binders, and other artisans—the Grolier Club pursues this mission through its library, its public exhibitions and lectures, and its long and distinguished series of publications.

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. 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. The Club currently numbers nearly 800 members, mostly American, but including a number of English, European, and Asian bibliophiles as well.

Anyone can visit the Grolier Club's exhibitions, purchase its publications, attend its lectures and other public events, and apply to use its Library. Formal membership, however, is subject to certain rules and restrictions. The Grolier Club is a private bibliophile society, which means that candidates may not apply for membership, but must be nominated. Nominations are based on a candidate's personal and/or professional commitment to books, as demonstrated through outstanding activity as a collector, antiquarian book dealer, rare book librarian, or some other bookish pursuit. Prospective candidates must be proposed in writing by a Club member, and supported by letters of recommendation from three additional members. Direct participation by candidates in this process is by tradition quite limited; however, those interested in membership are urged to inquire among fellow collectors, professional colleagues, and/or dealers with whom they regularly do business. Some of these may be Grolier members, and be willing to sponsor membership in the Club.

(Don’t call us, we will call you)

Well, who was The Grolier Club member who ordered this book?

Caroline F. Schimmel

When I googled this person, up popped two articles from the Penn Libraries, University of Pennsylvania.

The Caroline F. Schimmel Fiction Collection of Women in the American Wilderness comprises over 6,000 works of fiction by women writers, including novels, short stories, poetry, works by Native American authors, travel writings, narratives of polar expeditions, captivity narratives, and works for children. The Collection was donated in 2014 to the Penn Libraries by Penn alumna Caroline Schimmel (CW’67) and has been augmented by subsequent gifts.

Caroline Schimmel is one of the last graduates of the former Columbia University Library School. She is an elected member of the Grolier Club, the Royal Geographical Society, and the Explorers Club. She is a full-time book collector and bibliographer. Her passion for her subject, inspired in the late 1960s by the women’s movement, and her training as a rare book librarian, have contributed to the development of her remarkable collection. In addition to the fiction Ms. Schimmel has donated to Penn, she has collected roughly fifteen thousand non-fiction works that document female accounts of settling the west, exploration and science in the wilderness, local histories, cookery, and Native American women. Ms. Schimmel remains an active collector and intends to continue adding to the Penn collection.

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A selection of works by Willa Cather from the Penn Libraries' Caroline F. Schimmel Fiction Collection of Women in the American Wilderness.

In the 2019 documentary The Booksellers, book collector Caroline Schimmel shares some of the responses she got when she began collecting books by women writers in the 1960s. “I would say [to book dealers], ‘Show me where your women are.’ And they would say they didn’t have any,” she explains. “But then I would come back with a stack of books, and they would say, ‘Ah! There they are.’”

Today, Schimmel has amassed a collection of over 24,000 books and other objects, particularly art and textiles, which connect to the story of women in America. During a recent video tour of her New York home, she showed me Navajo blankets, family quilts from the 18th century, and a parka sewn by Inuit women for explorer Richard Evelyn Byrd. And, of course, she showed me her books, which cover nearly every visible surface. It’s remarkable to imagine that her collection was once even larger; in 2014, she donated more than 6,000 works to the University of Pennsylvania Libraries.

“She was the first [book collector] to recognize the importance of collecting women talking about women,” says the Kislak Center’s Director of Special Collections Processing Regan Kladstrup, who appears in The Booksellers along with William Noel, who directed the Kislak Center during the period when the documentary was filmed.

Well, I would say she certainly qualifies for The Grolier Club, or any club. What a great contribution she has made to the world of books.

And, what did she buy from Raven & Gryphon Fine Books?

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In September 1976, we bought this book from a gentleman in Saint John, New Brunswick. It appealed. And when we started up the book business, this scarce little item moved from our library to Raven & Gryphon Fine Books. This would have been posted up on the internet over four years ago. It was just waiting for the right buyer. Here is the accompanying description when we posted the book.

Ethel M. Chapman is assistant Superintendent of Women’s Institute for the Ontario Government, has spent years in very practical touch with the problems she treats, and has a human sympathy which provides a heart-touching interest all through the book.

Here is the blurb about the novel.

Billy Withers, working as a mere lad under a domineering father and most discouraging conditions on the ‘Swamp Farm’ gets a gleam of inspiration from a wonderful mother and goes on to work out a thoroughly practical but very worth-while future. He finds his way shortly into a Government Agricultural College, has a natural love affair there, becomes an Agricultural representative and leads in his own community in the working out of the principles which he sees as the solution of the rural problem. Billy has another love affair later, the real one this time, finds a city girl blessed with an abundance of ‘country common sense’ as well as remarkable ability in home-making, and together they work through various problems a long way toward the ideal, eventually building the model little home on the hill in the middle of God’s Green Country.

I would say this book meets the criteria for the special collection at the Penn Libraries.

Going to a good home.