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Unseen Hands: Women Printers, Binders and Book Designers    
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Jane Bissell Grabhorn
American, 1911-1973

Well-educated, attractive, and articulate, Jane Grabhorn brought her meticulous craftsmanship to the work of the Grabhorn Press, and her 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 a little 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 book arts. 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, and thieves.

Jane Grabhorn: Bookmaking on the Distaff Side Jane Grabhorn: Bookmaking on the Distaff Side

Bookmaking on the Distaff Side. New York: Distaff Side, 1937.
Graphic Arts Division

Picture of Jane Grabhorn printing, ca. 1945 -- Source is
Wentz, Roby. The Grabhorn Press. San Francisco, The Book Club of California, 1981

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


Princeton University Library, Graphic Arts Collection
Rebecca W. Davidson, Curator of Graphic Arts
Tel: (609) 258-3197
Last Modified: March 24, 2011