Jane Bissell Grabhorn
Well-educated, attractive, and articulate, Jane Grabhorn brought
her meticulous craftsmanship to the work of the Grabhorn Press, and
sparkling wit to the gatherings of artists and printing aficionados
in San Francisco in the 1930s and 1940s. Like her husband Bob and
brother-in-law Ed, she did a bit of everything at the press, from
writing copy to
editing, typography, composition, and binding. However, for a time
she also had two imprints of her own, the Jumbo (named for the toy
printing press) and the Colt (also named after a type of press used
in their shop). While the Colt Press offered the volumes of Western
American history for which the Grabhorns were already well known,
Jane used Jumbo as a vehicle for poking fun at printers who were
too compulsive, as in her earlier "Jumbo’s Lament":
I have tried in all ways
To be a perfect printer
I have never been swayed
By thoughts of fame or dinner
I have used white paper
And I have used black ink
I have never catered
To what other people think.
The compilation, Bookmaking on the Distaff Side, was printed
as a showcase for the contributions of women to printing and the
In addition to Jane’s humorous "Typographic Discourse"
and "The Punctuation Pets," by Ruth Douglas Keener,
the volume included a serious history and bibliography, and essays
on women calligraphers, papermakers, and typesetters. "Are
Women the Natural Enemies of Books?" was written in refutation
of an 1881 essay by Andrew Lang, in which he wrote that "Women
[are] the natural foes of books," putting them in the same
class as damp, dust, dirt, bookworms, careless readers, borrowers,
Bookmaking on the Distaff Side.
New York: Distaff Side, 1937.
Graphic Arts Division
Jane Grabhorn printing on the Washington hand-press, ca. 1945
Other works in the exhibition:
- A California Gold Rush Miscellany, with explanatory
text by Jane Bissell Grabhorn.
San Francisco: The Grabhorn Press, 1934.
The Princeton Collections of Western
Americana. Gift of Philip Ashton Rollins, Class of 1889