10 Jan 2013

Jumbo & Colt: the current exhibit in Special Collections & Archives

Posted by Steve MacLeod

 

jumbo&coltimageJumbo & Colt: The Printing World of Jane Grabhorn is the current exhibit in the Special Collections and Archives lobby on the fifth floor of Langson Library. The exhibit runs from January 7 – March 22, 2013.

Jane Bissell Grabhorn (1911-1973) was a printer and publisher of considerable importance in San Francisco, the center of the evolving fine printing community of the 1930s and 40s. She was the wife of Robert Grabhorn, who with his brother Edwin established the Grabhorn Press in San Francisco in 1920. The Grabhorn Press was the most important purveyor of fine printing in America during this era, and printed several of the most important fine press books of the 20th century.

Early in her printing career, Jane had watched the two Grabhorn brothers work together, often struggling as they would try to settle on the design of each book. To amuse herself she began to explore the possibility of printing her own projects. Robert discouraged her from buying a toy Jumbo press that Jane had seen in a store window, logically explaining that they had a shop full of presses if she wanted to use one. When in 1937 she finished her first project using the shop’s Washington hand press, she perversely titled her new undertaking the Jumbo Press. Jane’s new hobby became her obsession. Her Jumbo creations are not only irreverent, unique and incredibly original; they became, and remain, exceedingly rare collector’s items.  Jumbo-2

In 1938, the Grabhorns took on William Matson Roth as a summer intern in the shop. He was a student at Yale and a member of the wealthy Matson steamship family. Roth was enamored of Jane’s wit, talent and creativity in her Jumbo Press pieces. He was also interested in contemporary literature. They soon agreed to a collaborative partnership and the Colt Press was established to publish mainly contemporary literature and western history in inexpensive but fine, beautiful editions. Colt Press books included such notable authors as Henry Miller, Paul Goodman, Edmund Wilson, Janet Lewis, Weldon Kees, J.V. Cunningham and Don Stanford. There were plans to publish F. Scott Fitzgerald, Saul Bellow and Philip Rahv, but those came to naught.  The press also designed and printed books for others, notably the Book Club of California.

Jane Grabhorn, at first only a supporting cast member in the amusing and eccentric world of the Grabhorn Press, went on to make her own unique contributions to the world of fine book making. She accomplished this with her fearless personality, her strong sense of humor, her appreciation of collaboration in the arts, her fine design sense and her notable editorial skills. This exhibit tells the story of her two presses: the Jumbo Press & the Colt Press.

The rare book collections in UCI’s Special Collections and Archives Department include significant holdings of Colt Press titles and some of the rare Jumbo Press items.  Only a sample of those holdings is included in this exhibit.

We welcome you to take the time to see this exhibit and to learn more about the printing world of Jane Grabhorn. For more information please contact us at spcoll@uci.edu, (949) 824-3947.

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