• Ground Floor Gallery
    • Peter Koch Printer: A Forty-five-year Retrospective at the Grolier Club
      Embodied Language and the Form of the Book

      September 11 - November 23, 2019

      Peter Rutledge Koch has been designing and printing limited edition books, portfolios, and ephemera since 1974. He has long been recognized as one of the most accomplished printers and typographic designers of his generation. His training, influences, and achievements place him in the lineage of San Francisco literary fine press printers. A forty-five-year retrospective opens at the Grolier Club on September 11 and remains on view through November 23, 2019. The works on display, published by Koch between 1974 and 2019, span wide-ranging territory, from cowboy surrealism to pre-Socratic philosophy, and from contemporary and Renaissance poetry to hard-hitting photo-based requiems to the American West.

      Koch spent his youth in Montana, steeped in the lore of the American West and witness to its aftermath of environmental and cultural destruction, which continues to influence his work more than four decades later. His aesthetic was subsequently shaped by apprenticeship to the San Francisco printer Adrian Wilson and matured through various imprints in studios in the Bay area.

      Koch’s printing career began in Missoula, where he founded Black Stone Press in 1974. The press’s first publication, Montana Gothic (1974–1977), is best described as a cowboy surrealist literary journal. The press relocated to San Francisco in 1978 and closed six years later. Koch subsequently published under press names that reveal his eclectic interests and seriousness of purpose as well as his irreverence: Peter Rutledge Koch, Typographic Design; Peter and the Wolf Editions; Editions Koch; Hormone Derange Editions; Last Chance Gulch; and Peter Koch Printer.

      Point Lobos (1987) was Koch’s first mature contribution to the tradition of Bay Area fine press printing as well as his first post-Black Stone Press publication and remains a masterwork. It consists of a portfolio of fifteen poems by Robinson Jeffers and fifteen photographs by Wolf von dem Bussche (Peter and the Wolf editions) housed in a black walnut slipcase.

      In 1990, with Herakleitos, Koch began a series of works by Greek pre-Socratic philosophers that ventured into a new realm of art practice. “Herakleitos led me out of the framework of traditional typographic refinement into what I believed to be the arena of the book as a work of art,” he said in a 2015 interview.

      The 2005 bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition became a galvanizing point for a group of publications described collectively as the “Montana Suite.” Each work reveals aspects of the transformation of the American West by European migration and the destruction of native territory and traditions through what Koch describes as “photo interventions.”

      Poetry—contemporary American, classical Greek, and Italian Renaissance—forms the warp of Koch’s publishing cloth; its weft is the creative work of his many collaborators, whose engravings, etchings, drawings, collages, and paintings accompany and animate the texts he chooses to print.

      In addition to traditional codex fine press books and portfolios printed on paper, Koch at times expresses his ideas in varied formats he refers to as “text transmission objects.” Materials include the use of lead as a printing substrate, acid-etched zinc plates, and innovative binding structures and housings custom-designed to support the pages. The Defictions of Diogenes (1994) presents twenty-one short philosophical performance pieces by Thomas McEvilley based on the life of the arch-cynic Diogenes of Sinope (b. 404 BC). The text is hand-lettered by Christopher Stinehour, printed letterpress from zinc engravings onto lead tablets by Koch and housed in a unique ceramic box by sculptor Stephen Braun.

      Koch is co-director with his wife, art conservator Susan K. Filter, of the Codex Foundation (est. 2005), devoted to preserving and promoting the book as a work of art. The foundation organizes the biennial CODEX International Book Fair and Symposium, which brings artists who work in the form of the book from all over the world to the Bay Area with support from Stanford Libraries and other institutions and individuals.

      The Grolier Club exhibition originated with Stanford Libraries Department of Special Collections, the repository of Koch's archive.

      CATALOGUE: A heavily illustrated three-volume catalogue accompanies the exhibition. For a full description of the catalogue, see

      Wednesday, September 11, 6:00 p.m. – Curator’s Chat with Roberto G. Trujillo, Associate University Librarian and Director of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries.
      Wednesday, October 2, 6:00 p.m. – “Against Design: The Work of Peter Koch”, lecture by Russell Maret.

      October 18 -19, 2019. A CODEX/Grolier International Symposium: The CODEX Effect: A Conversation Between Artists, Curators, Scholars, and Collectors. For more information and tickets, go to

  • Second Floor Gallery
    • "The A.B.C. of Alphabets" from the Collection of Gretchen Adkins
      September 18 – November 2, 2019

      Alphabets have been published for hundreds of years, in a variety of languages and styles, for a multitude of purposes, some aimed at children; others definitely not. The exhibition is organized in six intriguing categories: “A Apple Pie,” “A Was An Archer,” “Manuscripts,” “Alphabets Are Not Just For Children,” “The Letter N,” and “Advertising.”

      A Apple Pie (200 Years of the Famous Nursery Rhyme)

      The nursery rhyme A Apple Pie has been known since 1671 when it was quoted in the writings of the minister John Eachard. The text is unusual in its use of verbs: “A ate it,” “B bit it,” “C cut it,” etc. The exhibition covers 200 years of the rhyme, from its first recorded appearance until the publication of Kate Greenaway’s 1886 best-seller.

      A Was an Archer (Alphabets of Professions)

      Like A Apple PieA was an Archer has a long history. It first appeared in the early 18th century, and remained popular throughout the 19th century, produced in a wide variety of editions from cheap chapbooks, to large books in color. Each letter refers to a profession or a trade: “A was an Archer,” “B was a Butcher,” “C was a Captain,” “D was a Drunkard,” and so on. Although it was more popular in England, alphabets of professions can be found in various languages, notably the 1920 French edition of A est un Archer.

      Alphabets Are Not Just for Children (ABCs for Adults)

      Most people associate alphabets with children and childhood, but that is not always the case, and many writers and illustrators have taken sly pleasure in turning a genre that is usually aimed at teaching children into entertainment for adults.

      In Kissed Again—Part of the Bargain, the shenanigans of Countess Screwvinsky (alias Beatrice Wood) and her “admirers” are definitely not directed at those learning to read. This playful alphabet of advice to a would-be courtesan comes from the woman who was in a ménage-à-trois with Marcel Duchamp and Henri-Pierre Roche. Their relationship was the inspiration for Truffault’s film, Jules and Jim. And the authors of Freud’s Alphabet and Ballet Alphabet, a Primer for Laymen by Lincoln Kirsten, illustrated by Paul Cadmus, certainly had a mature audience in mind.


      Six manuscripts offer a range of work from personal reflections to a universal depiction of objects. Among them is an Untitled Alphabet by Basil Withy (B.W.), who died July 2, 1916 at the Battle of the Somme when he was 30 years old. The son of a wealthy ship owner, Withy’s alphabet references family, friends and household staff before he left to fight in World War I.

      The Letter N (The Challenge of Finding Animals to Represent N)

      Alphabets devoted to animals may be challenged to find examples (other than birds) beginning with the letter N. Each book in the exhibition illustrates a separate solution. C.B. Falls, in his 1923 ABC Book, chose the Newt to solve his N problem. “Noah,” as in Noah’s Ark ABC, is occasionally the solution. Some imaginative authors, such as Gus. Av. Friendly, have forsaken the zoological world altogether and created their own four-legged universe.

      Advertising (“26” Selling Points!)

      Advertising pamphlets, printed on cheap paper and widely distributed, are a relic of the past. They sold anything and everything, from heavy machinery to food and drink, and many used the familiar and comfortable A-to-Z framework to enumerate their selling points: 26 reasons to buy life insurance, for instance.

      The Alphabet Book of Coca Cola from 1928 (when a Coke cost 5 cents) is a classic, offering 26 rhyming verses on the merit of the beverage. Every nationality and level of society is illustrated in full color enjoying the carbonated drink. It even offers a testimonial from The United States Supreme Court.

      Free Lunchtime Exhibition Tours: September 25 and October 2, 16, and 30, 1:00 – 2:00 p.m. – Curator Gretchen Adkins will offer a free guided tour of the exhibition. Open to all, no reservations required.

Visiting the Grolier Club

47 East 60th Street
New York, NY 10022

Hours: Monday – Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm
Admission: Exhibitions are open to the public free of charge


Celebrating the Art & History of the Book Since 1884

For further information, please contact:
Susan Flamm
Public Relations Consultant to the Grolier Club
Jennifer Sheehan
Exhibitions and Communications Manager
212-838-6690 x 2

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