The Marjorie G. and Carl W. Stern Book Arts & Special Collections Center presents the Hand Bookbinders of California's Annual Members’ Exhibition, to celebrate the group’s forty-fourth year. The exhibition opens on Saturday, June 18th, at 2pm, at the San Francisco Public Library’s Skylight Gallery, Sixth Floor, Main Library. The exhibition continues through September 3rd. There will be two docent-led tours of the exhibition on Thursday, June 23rd and Thursday, July 7th at 10 a.m.
The Hand Bookbinders of California
On March 17, 1972 the Hand Bookbinders of California was established at an informal meeting in the Washington Street home of Mr. Gale Herrick. Officers named were Mr. Herrick, President; Miss Sheila Casey, Secretary-Treasurer; and Mrs. Peter Fahey, Membership Committee Chairman.
The Hand Bookbinders of California have organized exhibitions of members’ work ever since. The first, which opened in November 1973, featured 50 books, which were displayed in the front windows of John Howell Books at 434 Post Street, near Union Square. The annual exhibits continued to be hosted by Howell’s over the next ten years (except for a break in 1977) when this revered book shop closed its doors. HBC has organized other shows, most notably the major international exhibition Hand Bookbinding Today, An International Art, which opened at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in March 1978 and was documented in a catalog designed by Jack Stauffacher.
The annual members’ exhibitions have been hosted by various institutions since the mid-1980s and have been a regular feature at the San Francisco Public Library for many years. This year’s exhibition includes the work of over forty members and presents a wide variety of both traditional and innovative approaches to the concept, structure, and construction of the book. The objects range in size from miniscule to mammoth, from gold-tooled leather bindings to artist’s books which redefine the notion of a “book.”
The Hand Bookbinders of California (HBC) was founded by Bay Area bookbinders and collectors to provide a forum in which to share and promote their interest in books and bookbinding. For forty-four years, the group has created a venue for the exchange of ideas and techniques, fostered public appreciation of the art of design binding, exhibited the work of its members, and encouraged students in order to keep alive a Bay Area tradition of fine binding which dates to the nineteenth century. The group now includes nearly 200 book lovers and artists from all over the country and its scope has expanded to include professionals, amateurs, and students of conservation, box making, fine printing, artist’s books, papermaking and decoration, calligraphy, printmaking, and writing. Membership in the Hand Bookbinders of California is open to anyone. They meet monthly, sponsor bookbinding workshops and classes, and publish The Gold Leaf, a biannual journal.
Before the HBC: The Bookbinders Guild of California
Traditional book arts flourished in late nineteenth-century San Francisco, where the printing industry had long been especially vigorous. In early 1902, the Bookbinders Guild of California was established by booksellers Morgan Shepard and Paul Elder. Early members included Phoebe Hearst, Octavia Holden, Lucinda Butler, and Rosa Taussig. Seventy-two members of the Guild exhibited in the windows of the Elder and Shepard Bookshop in their first members’ exhibit later that year. That show featured work by Douglas Cockerell, Roger de Coverly, and T.J. Cobden Sanderson. The Bookbinders' Guild of California disappeared sometime before the 1906 earthquake and fire. When San Francisco bookbinders regrouped around 1908, it was as the California Members of the New York-based Guild of Book Workers.
With the founding of the Book Club of California in 1912, the arts of fine printing and fine binding, already encouraged and supported by many, were now institutionally and formally recognized. Belle McMurty Young, one of the founding members of the Book Club, was an active teacher of hand bookbinding. She had learned the craft from Octavia Holden, a founding member of the Bookbinders' Guild of California.
A second organization of San Francisco binders, now named the California Bookbinders' Guild, was established around 1927, again with Octavia Holden as the key figure. The group hosted its fifth annual members’ exhibition in 1933 but then disappeared from the record. The major international bookbinding exhibition, at the Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939, was entitled Fine Bookbindings Exhibited at the Golden Gate International Exposition, San Francisco, was organized by Peter Fahey without a sponsoring bookbinders’ organization.
Today, several generations later, the Hand Bookbinders of California carry on this venerated tradition, passing on the craft, one teacher and one student at a time. The San Francisco Public Library is pleased to partner with the Hand Bookbinders of California. We honor the collecting of, caring for, and making of books. And together, we pay tribute to this extraordinary lineage of practitioners of the traditional book arts.
Many thanks to Tom Conroy for his research assistance.
Images from Marmerpapier by Geert Van Daal, (1980). Grabhorn Collection, San Francisco Public Library