Guide to the Collections

Collections Overview 

A Synopsis of the Grolier Club Library Classification Scheme

00-08 General Bibliography 10-19 Art of the Book
01 Bibliography, Subject 20-29 Writing, Palaeography
02 Authorship 30-39 Typography, Printing
03 Publishing and Copyright 40-49 Illustration, Prints
04 Bookseller Catalogues 50-59 Bookbinding
05 Book Auction Catalogues 60-69 Bookplates
06 Libraries, General Periodicals
07 Institutional Libraries Archives
08 Private Libraries Library Collection Development Policy
  • 00-08 General Bibliography
    • The founders of the Grolier Club originally intended the Library to be a working reference collection of standard bibliographical works and books relating to the art of printing. It is still so used, and although the scope of the Library has grown in succeeding decades, author, title, and subject bibliographies retain a central place. In addition to current works, the collection includes many rare and early examples, such as Johannes Trithemius' 1494 Liber de scriptoribusecclesiasticis (left), the first bibliography to be compiled as a work of reference. 

  • 04 Bookseller Catalogues
    • The Grolier Club is pre-eminent among libraries documenting the buying, selling and collecting of books. The research core of the Library is a collection of over sixty thousand bookseller and book auction catalogues, perhaps the largest (and certainly the most accessible) archive in America of this notoriously rare and ephemeral material, and much consulted by book historians. The collection includes a large number of important early examples, including a 1643 French inventory of the library of Jean de Cordes; the first recorded English book auction catalogue (the Lazarus Seaman sale, London, 1676, right); and the very rare 1772 list of American bookseller Henry Knox, one of only two copies known. Many of these catalogues bear contemporary annotations concerning buyers and prices, making them doubly valuable for those trying to trace the provenance of particular books. Of equal value in their way, however, are the many thousands of obscure and unrecorded catalogues, valuable raw data in the study of the movement of books (and therefore knowledge and culture) in America and elsewhere. The Library also maintains comprehensive runs of catalogues from the major European and American houses, supplemented by archival collections documenting the activities of important dealers.



      One of the largest collections in the Grolier Club Library. The general goal is the preservation of catalogues which have value for bibliographical study, based on the importance of the material catalogued, or the high standards of description, or the presence of unique material, such as manuscripts and autographs. The Grolier Club collections are classified by country, and sub-arranged into four chronological groups: up to 1850, 1851 to 1900, 1901 to 1950, and 1951 to date. The historical collection includes some of the very earliest known bookseller catalogues (John Leggatt's catalogue of 1637, and William London's 1658 Most Vendible Books, for example), and there are complete runs of almost all the major American, English and European dealers down to the present day. The modern catalogue runs are complemented by the business papers of firms such as Morgand et Fatout, E.P. Goldschmidt, and John Fleming, as well as the archives of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA) and AB/Bookman's Weekly.

  • 05 Book Auction Catalogues

      With bookseller catalogues, catalogues of book auctions form the core of the Library's research collection. Auction catalogues from all countries are represented, but the Library's holdings are particularly rich in English, American and French sales. The Club owns a high proportion of the 17th-century English sale catalogues listed in the British Museum List of Catalogues of English Book Sales 1676-1900, for instance, and these are supplemented by extensive holdings of significant 18th-century sales as well. The collection of 19th-century English sales is quite fine, highlighted by important copies of catalogues annotated by Sir Thomas Phillipps, William Morris, Guglielmo Libri, and other famous collectors, as well as nearly complete runs of auction houses such as Puttick & Simpson, and Sotheby's. The collection of American auction sales is by no means comprehensive, but a number of the most notable early sales recorded in American Book Auction Catalogues (compiled by former Club Librarian George McKay) are represented, including Buckminster (1812), Everett and Tichnor (1815), Jefferson (1829), and many others. The Club's archive of some four thousand French catalogues, representing most of the important sales held from the 17th century to the present day, is certainly the largest such collection outside France, and is much consulted by scholars. Electronic records for the entire book auction catalogue collection are available through the Grolier Club Library Online Catalogue: for a link, see the options under Library in the menu at upper left.

  • 07 Institutional Libraries
    • Subarranged by country. The focus here is on catalogues (and, to a lesser extent, histories) of notable institutional libraries.

  • 08 Private Libraries
    • Another important focus of the Library—suitable to an organization of collectors and bibliophiles—is material documenting personal collecting and the building of private libraries. The Grolier's collection of private library catalogues is perhaps unrivalled in the United States. The collection spans nearly three centuries,and encompasses unique manuscript inventories (such as that of Madame de Pompadour's library, right), as well as printed lists of libraries great and obscure. Important examples of this genre include the 250-volume manuscript slip-catalogue of Lord Spencer's great library (complete with mahogany travelling case), as well as a full set of catalogues printed by Sir Thomas Phillipps to document his fabled Bibliotheca Phillippica. Important personages and famous bibliomanes aside, the research strength of the collection lies in its coverage of the whole range of private collecting, and particularly those many hundreds of catalogues which document a wide range of more modest libraries.

  • 10-19 Art of the Book

      The Dibdin Collection. Thomas Frognall Dibdin (1776-1847) was a gregarious and loquacious clergyman who was also a passionate collector and lover of books. He published numerous gossipy accounts of collectors and libraries in early 19th century England (a hotbed of bibliomania, or "book madness"), and although his prose is a bit ornate for modern tastes, it is a small price to pay for boundless enthusiasm and keen insight. The Library has a good collection of Dibdin's printed works—including Dibdin's own copies of Specimen Bibliothecae Brittanicae, A Bibliographical ... Tour in France and Germany, and Reminiscences of a Literary Life—as well as letters, bibliographical notes, and other material.

  • 20-29 Writing, Palaeography
  • 30-39 Typography, Printing
    • The mission of the Grolier Club is "to foster the study, collecting, and appreciation of books and works on paper," and the Library is rich in works documenting the history of printing, typography, and graphic design. Researchers and practitioners will find much of interest here, from important historical landmarks such as Geoffroy Tory's Champfleury, to 19th-century type specimen books, from Joseph Moxon's 1677 Mechanick Exercises, to catalogues of the latest digitized typefaces.



      Since 1884 the Club has played a part in the education of typographers, designers, and librarians, and to that end has built a valuable teaching collection illustrating book-making through the centuries. The collection includes a small but choice group of illuminated manuscripts, as well as representative examples of incunabula, and later works by acknowledged masters of printing and typography—Aldus, Jenson, Plantin, Baskerville, Bodoni, and a host of others. The modern fine press movement is particularly well represented, and, along with supporting secondary literature, the researcher will find many examples illustrating the work of typographers and designers, from William Morris (The Kelmscott Press Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley is illustrated at left) to Joseph Blumenthal.

  • 40-49 Illustration, Prints
    • The very first Grolier exhibition, mounted in 1884, was a survey of etchings from Dürer to Whistler, and the Club maintains to this day a lively interest in the graphic arts. The Society of Iconophiles, organized in 1894 by Grolier Club member William Loring Andrews for the purpose of producing fine prints of New York subjects, was an important focus of Club activity until the demise of the Society in 1939, and the Club retains the organization's very complete and interesting archive. The Library's own print collection, appropriately enough, is centered on images of bookish subjects and portraits of men and women notable in the book arts, as well as bookplates and other related bibliophile ephemera (such as the bookplate and portrait of Samuel Pepys, at right), each category supported by its own reference collection.

  • 50-59 Bookbinding
    • The Club's rich collection of reference works on the art and craft of book-binding is complemented by a choice array of examples. A fitting centerpiece is the important 'Grolier binding' shown at left—one of the distinctive and beautiful 16th-century gilt bindings commissioned by the Club's namesake, Jean Grolier. Early in its history the Club maintained its own firm of binders imported from France, and there are some delightful examples in the collection of the work of the 'Club Bindery'. Aside from these highlights, the collection includes a large and representative sampling of bindings ancient and modern—focusing on the work of notable craftsmen from Roger Payne to Michael Wilcox—in all styles, and in every conceivable material, from cloth to silver.

  • 60-69 Bookplates
    • This class covers the art and history of printed and engraved bookplates, as well as other marks of ownership, such as inscriptions and armorial bindings. Included are works on the coats of arms prominent in so many forms of exlibris. In addition to reference works, the Grolier Club Library holds collections of bookplates totalling over 10,000 separate examples.

  • Periodicals
    • Includes annuals and other regularly issued serials. The Library has an extensive collection in the areas of bibliography and collecting, with a selection of library journals devoted mainly to rare books. Current subscriptions number about 200.

  • Archives
    • The Library's manuscript and archival collections cover a period of over four hundred years, and contain a great deal of unique and valuable research material supporting the Club's focus on printing, bookselling, and book collecting. The Library's autograph collections include letters documenting the bookish activities of Jean Grolier, Thomas Wotton (the "English Grolier"), Jacques de Thou, Cardinal Mazarin, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Frognall Dibdin, and Guglielmo Libri. 

      The cornerstone of the Club's archival holdings on book collecting is the Phillipps Collection (for a link, see options under Library in menu at upper left), some three thousand books, manuscripts, and letters pertaining to Sir Thomas Phillipps (pictured at right), the great nineteenth-century English bibliomaniac. The Library also holds a number of important dealer archives, including those of Édouard Rahir, Arthur Swann, E. P. Goldschmidt, and the Scribner rare book department. A recent and very interesting addition in this category is a collection of some three hundred letters of Sir Sydney Cockerell (1867-1962) to Grolier Club member Harold Peirce (d. 1932), dating from 1897-1931, and illustrating Cockerell's hitherto largely undocumented activities as a book agent and rare book dealer. A high-spot in the Club's collections of printing history is a group of three manuscript ledgers documenting the London printing firm of William Bowyer & Son from 1710 to 1773, a unique and singularly complete record of 18th-century printing practice. And finally, book designers, illustrators, and typographers are represented in archival collections of Frederic Warde, Bruce Rogers, Rudolph Ruzicka, Sidney L. Smith, Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, and others. The Grolier Club Library maintains online acomplete list of its archival collections, with links to detailed finding aids: see options under Library in menu at upper left.

  • Library Collection Development Policy
    • The Grolier Club Library
      Statement of Collection Development Policy

      1. Statement of Purpose: The Library of The Grolier Club, which includes the Prints, Drawings, and Photographs Collection [hereafter, “the Library”], is a research collection established to serve the primary mission of the Club, which is “to foster the study, collecting, and appreciation of books and works on paper, their art, history, production, and commerce.” The role of the Library is to collect, preserve, and make available for research materials relating to this mission.

        Introduction: The Grolier Club Library was founded in 1884 as a reference library for the Club's bibliophile membership. Early in the Club’s history, library acquisitions tended to emphasize books and prints illustrating the book arts. However, in the early 1920s, the Library’s holdings in the literature of collecting and the book trade, including book catalogues of all types—printed and manuscript inventories of private libraries, catalogues of antiquarian booksellers, and book auction sales—began to emerge as a central focus. Now, after several decades of concentrated collecting in these areas, the Grolier Club Library’s holdings of book catalogues are among the most comprehensive in the country; and these, along with the papers of important bibliophiles, bibliographers, and antiquarian book dealers, have long been recognized as an important and often unique resource for Library patrons.

        While the Library continues to collect in nearly all other areas relating to the art and history of the book and graphic arts, it recognizes that the explosion of reference material in these disciplines, particularly in the last few decades, has made comprehensiveness prohibitive. Indeed, much of its reference collection of books about books may be duplicated or surpassed by major public and academic libraries in the region. Nevertheless, the Library’s accessibility, manageable scale, and narrow focus—in addition to its unique emphasis on the literature of collecting and the book trade—endow it with several distinct advantages over larger, more generalized collections.

      2. Constituency: The policy of the Library is to make materials available to all qualified researchers on equal terms, subject to the appropriate care and handling of the materials by the researcher. Researchers may include members of the Grolier Club; faculty, staff and students from academic institutions; antiquarian book dealers and their staff; independent researchers; and qualified members of the general public. Researchers who are not members of the Grolier Club must have an appointment to use the Library, must produce proper photographic identification, and must fill out or have on file a reader registration form.
      3. Activities:
        1. Education and Outreach
          1. Research — Materials collected and made available shall further the research and interests of scholars working in the art and history of the book, including private and institutional collecting; the book trade; bibliography; book production, design, and readership; and the study and promotion of the printing and graphic arts, as outlined in section IV below.
          2. Exhibitions — In accordance with Article XIV.2.A.1.c.iii of the Grolier Club Constitution, the Library shall "sponsor occasional exhibitions designed to illustrate its special fields of interest." Exhibitions featuring Library materials are created by the Grolier Club Librarian, with the approval of the Director. The Library will consider requests to lend unrestricted materials for exhibition to other institutions when the policies and facilities of those institutions meet acceptable standards. Borrowing institutions must agree to give credit to the Grolier Club as well as agree to specific fees required by the Club, which will be determined at the discretion of the Librarian.
          3. Publications and Outreach — The Library seeks to further knowledge in the fields of bibliography and the history of the book and graphic arts and to foster use of the Library's specialized collections in those areas through an outreach program that increases awareness of the nature and significance of the collections among members of the book-loving public as well as specialist researchers. This program includes exhibitions (see section IIIA2, above); tours of Library facilities, and presentations by the Director, and the Librarian; lectures and symposia; publications such as brochures, printed catalogues, and the Club newsletter; the Library page of the Grolier Club website; and appropriate social media outlets.
        2. Support
          1. Cataloguing — Awareness of the collections in the scholarly community will be fostered by cataloguing collections according to international standards, and making those records available electronically through the Library's Online Public Access Catalogue (OPAC); and through international online bibliographic databases, such as OCLC’s, which are widely available to researchers.
          2. Preservation and Security — Crucial to the ongoing operation of the Library of the Grolier Club is the preservation of research materials. Collections are housed in a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment, and are protected by fire detection and suppression systems. The collections are non-circulating, and rare materials are maintained in locked, key-controlled storage areas. Photography and photocopying are allowed only at the discretion of the Librarian and are subject to all rules and fees as determined appropriate by the Librarian. Security measures include a resident House Manager, a monitored alarm system, and a closed-circuit video surveillance system.
          3. Resource Sharing — The Library will consider requests to photograph, photocopy or otherwise reproduce materials for inclusion in another repository at the discretion of the Librarian, subject to specific limitations imposed by the terms of acquisition and the availability of staff and technical resources. Reproduction requests are subject to all rules and fees as determined appropriate by the Librarian. Identifying copyright owners and obtaining permission is the responsibility of the author and the publisher. The Library does not participate in Interlibrary Loan. Library collections do not circulate, and all materials must be used in the Library reading room.
          4. Acquisitions — The Library acquires materials through purchase and donation. It does not generally accept materials on loan or deposit, except with the understanding that such materials will be donated outright at a later date. Purchases are financed by income from endowment funds, from cash donations, and from the occasional sale of duplicate and out-of-scope materials (see section VI, below). Donations of materials and funds are essential to the maintenance and development of the collections, and the support of donors is consistently sought. Grant funding for special projects is sought when such projects do not diminish the level of routine care and service of the collections, and when they can contribute substantially to the acquisition, arrangement and description, or servicing of the collections.
      4. Priorities, Strengths, and Limitations of the Collection: The Library's strengths and collecting levels are outlined below. Due to funding, staffing and space restraints, collecting in all areas must be selective (see section I: Introduction, above).
        1. Collecting Levels: Subjects & Genres
          1. Current Strengths:
            • Catalogues of the major American and European antiquarian booksellers and auction houses, with an emphasis on catalogues of important collections, and particularly those annotated with prices and buyers’ names or having other significant provenance.
            • Private library catalogues, printed or in manuscript, particularly those documenting important American, English, and Western European collections and collectors.
            • Original primary source material relating to private and institutional book collecting and the antiquarian book trade.
            • Monographs and reference materials on private and institutional book collecting and the antiquarian book trade.
            • Official records of the Grolier Club and its activities, including archival copies of its publications.
          2. Desired Strengths:
            • Catalogues of secondary American and European antiquarian booksellers and auction houses.
            • Catalogues of institutional libraries and histories of libraries.
            • Pre-1901 histories of printing, printing manuals, and type specimens.
            • Pre-1901 examples of book-making.
            • Pre-1901 monographs and reference works on book illustration and printing; bookbinding; bookplates, and other works indicating ownership of books.
            • Pre-1901 examples of fine bindings; unusual & curious books.
            • Members’ publications that fall within the scope of the Library’s collecting policy.
            • For the Prints, Drawings, and Photographs collection:
              1. Examples of graphic arts techniques.
              2. Prints and other works on paper depicting persons and activities connected with the history of the book and graphic arts.
              3. Prints and other works on paper related to book history and the book as object.
              4. Bookplates, bookseller trade cards, and other book- and graphic-arts-related ephemera.
              5. Graphics related to the history of the Grolier Club, its publications, and its members.
          3. Selective Acquisition: The Library acquires selectively in all other areas of its collecting scope, including, but not limited to:
            • Subject and author bibliographies, with an emphasis on descriptive rather than enumerative bibliographies.
            • Monographs and reference works on the history of the book and book arts, including catalogues of book exhibitions.
            • Materials published by other book clubs.
            • Histories of commercial publishing and printing, as understood in the modern sense.
            • Monographs and reference works on writing, paleography, and medieval manuscripts (N.B.: works relating to the collecting of medieval manuscripts are collected in depth).
            • Monographs and reference works on literary methods and authorship.
            • Post-1901 histories of printing, printing manuals, and type specimens; examples of book-making; monographs and reference works on book illustration and printing; bookbinding; bookplates, and other works indicating ownership of books; examples of fine bindings; unusual & curious books.
        2. Collecting Levels: Forms of Material
          1. The Library is an integrated collection that acquires materials in most formats, including, but not limited to, monographs, serials, manuscripts, archives, photographs, pamphlets, audio-visual materials, microforms, prints and other works on paper, electronic resources, and selected ephemera.
          2. Statement on Digital and Electronic Resources: The Library does not collect titles in digital format when a print format is available. Born-digital materials that fit into areas of the Library’s current or desired strengths, as laid out in Section IVA, will be considered for acquisition depending upon the availability of staff and technological resources. Digitization of Library materials, while not currently practiced, is under consideration. The Library subscribes to a limited number of electronic databases, recognizing the wider availability of these resources in other regional institutions.
        3. Gift Policy — Gifts to the collection are added using the same criteria as those applied to purchased materials. The Library reserves the right to review all gifts before acceptance. Gifts that are accepted but not added to the collection (i.e. accessioned) may be sold to fund the purchase of other items, or in some other manner that will most effectively enhance the usefulness of the Library. Once accepted, all gifts become the unrestricted property of the Library, and the Library reserves the right to determine retention, location, cataloguing, disposition and other factors relating to the gift. In-kind gifts to the Library may provide a donor with income tax benefits. In accordance with IRS regulations, the Grolier Club cannot provide estimates of value or appraisals. The Grolier Club adheres strictly to federal and New York State laws regulating the donation and deaccessioning of materials
        4. Exclusions — Within the very broad category of books about books, the Library will generally not accept the following: belles-lettres; biographies and collected correspondence of authors and artists which lack a strong bibliographical component or focus; works on the sociological or political aspects of reading; facsimiles of illuminated manuscripts and early printed books (except for representative examples already in the collection, or occasional gifts hereafter accepted at the discretion of the Director or Librarian); archival collections of organizations not having primarily a bibliographical or bibliophilic focus, or archives of active organizations unable to provide financial support for ongoing processing and maintenance.
      5. Cooperative Agreements Affecting the Collection Policy: No formal cooperative agreements with other libraries are in effect. However, the Library recognizes that other institutions collect in the same or overlapping areas. Opportunities to acquire such materials, as well as those not covered by the Library's collecting policy, will be referred to an appropriate repository. In cases where the legitimate collecting interests of the Library and another repository directly conflict, the Library will use the best interests of the scholarly community as a criterion in pursuing a resolution.
      6. Statement of Deaccessioning Policy – With the exception of materials subject to official terms of acquisition agreed upon between the Library and a donor, the Library reserves the right to deaccession any materials within its collections. Accessioned materials acquired by gift or purchase and determined by the Librarian or Director to be a duplicate or irreparably damaged may be deaccessioned and offered to the membership in the context of a Library sponsored book sale, disposed of at auction, or sold to a bookseller. Materials determined by the Librarian or Director to be out of scope may only be deaccessioned upon the approval of the Library Committee and, if deemed appropriate by the Library Committee, upon the approval of the Council. Deaccessioned materials may also be offered to another more appropriate institution, or to the donor. The Library Committee or the Prints, Drawings, and Photographs Committee (for PDP materials) shall arrange for the sale or other disposition of such materials and shall apply proceeds of the sale to the purchase of other items, or in some other manner which in its judgment will most effectively enhance the usefulness of the Library. (For the dispersal of non-accessioned material, see section IVC: Gift Policy, above.)
      7. Procedures Affecting Collecting Policy:
        1. Gift Acknowledgment — The Library will not accept materials without a legal transfer of title, deed of gift or deposit, or other official acknowledgement.
        2. Loans and Deposits — Materials loaned to or deposited with the Library will be accepted only in extraordinary circumstances and only with the commitment that the materials will be donated outright at a later date. If materials are deposited or loaned, the Library reserves the right to include in any deposit agreement provisions for recovering the processing and storage costs for materials that are later returned to the depositor.
        3. Closed Collections — While the Library may accept collections of materials with temporary access restrictions, it will not accept collections of materials that are closed to public access in perpetuity.
        4. Deaccessioning — The Library reserves the right to deaccession any materials within its collections (see section VI: Statement of Deaccessioning Policy, above)
        5. Exhibitions — The Library reserves the right to include unrestricted materials in exhibitions, in accordance with normally accepted archival principles and practices.
      8. Procedures for Monitoring Development and Reviewing Collection Development Guidelines: This collecting policy is designed to meet the needs and goals of the Library of the Grolier Club. In order to determine the effectiveness of the collecting policy, this document will be reviewed no less than every five years by the Director, the Librarian, and such members of the Library Committee and the Prints, Drawings, and Photographs Committee as the chairs of those committees shall see fit to appoint, and the policy will be re-evaluated and amended as those committees shall decide. The revised policy will be reviewed by the Library Committee and the Prints, Drawings, and Photographs Committee, and approved by the Council.

      November 1999; rev. May 2005, August 2009, April 2014

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