Presidents' Books, Lexicography, and The Best-Read Army in New Grolier Exhibitions

The Fall 2023-Spring 2024 Grolier Club exhibition schedule offers an intriguing range of displays from bookbindings and translation to detective fiction and its opening Fall exhibition, Presidents and Their Books: What They Read and What They Wrote (September 7 – November 11).

This will present selections from the collection of Grolier Club member Susan Jaffe Tane, featuring books from the libraries of all 45 men who have held the office of President of the United States of America. Co-curated by Tane and her teenage grandchildren Natalie Flaxman and Spencer Flaxman - the youngest-ever curators at the Grolier Club - the exhibition includes books signed and inscribed by Presidents. Highlights include:

  • a copy of John Adams’ political philosophy papers inscribed to his cousin
  • Thomas Jefferson’s annotated copy of Homer’s Iliad
  • a presentation copy of Abraham Lincoln’s Political Debates
  • a copy of Gentle Julia, presented to a nine-year-old George H. W. Bush by author Booth Tarkington   

From September 27 through December 30, 2023, the Ground Floor Gallery will host The Best-Read Army in the World which focuses on the publishing industry associated with the U.S. forces during World War II. These included the pocket-sized paperback 'Armed Services Editions' and petite issues of newspapers and popular magazines. The exhibition features approximately 225 pieces from the collection of Molly Guptill Manning (bestselling author and associate professor of law, New York Law School) including miniature books and periodicals, photographs, posters, artwork, propaganda leaflets, and letters. Highlights include rare prototypes for troop-friendly publications, a bundle of Armed Services Editions in its original packaging, a U.S. army librarian uniform, and a display on World War II-era book bans.

Whodunit? Key Books in Detective Fiction features selections from Grolier Club member Jeffrey Johnson’s more than 400-piece collection of detective novels from the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The exhibition (November 30, 2023 – February 10, 2024) includes:

  • a four-volume set of the Newgate Calendar (1824), a sensationalist publication detailing criminal activity
  • the first American edition of The Memoirs of Francois Vidocq (1834), the world’s “first” detective
  • the first collection of Sherlock Holmes stories (1892)
  • Recollections of a Detective Police Officer (1856), a mass-market “yellowback”
  • Charles Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood, in “parts” as originally issued in 1870
  • detective novels of those not normally associated with the genre such as Eden Phillpotts, Aldous Huxley, William Faulkner, and Gypsy Rose Lee

Dates are still to be firmed up for Judging a Book By Its Cover: Bookbindings from the Collections of the Grolier Club, 1470s-2020 which will run in January until April 2024. This will put on display selections from seven centuries of the Grolier Club’s collection of bindings, largely donated and built by the Club’s members over the course of its 140-year history such as a silver filigreed and jeweled miniature Book of Hours (1673), a gilt maroon goatskin binding from a Vatican bindery, presented to Cardinal Basadonna (1674), and a bright green silk and floral embroidered binding created by May Morris, daughter of William Morris (ca. 1888). It is curated by Grolier Club member H. George Fletcher, the former Astor Director for Special Collections at The New York Public Library and former curator at The Morgan Library & Museum. 

Language, Decipherment, and Translation – from Then to Now (February 29 – May 11, 2024) celebrates the role of books and related objects in transferring information and knowledge, curated by Grolier Club member Deirdre Lawrence. It will display work from her personal collection of books, collages, prints, and scrolls in a variety of languages (some invented). Highlights include early attempts at decipherment of hieroglyphs including Hieroglyphica (1594) by Pierio Valerianus and the Mensa Isiaca (1670) by Lorenzo Pignoria, as well as A Universal Lexicon (2018) by Sarah Hulsey.

Also awaiting final exact dates is Hardly Harmless Drudgery: Landmarks in English Lexicography. Co-curated by Grolier Club members Bryan A. Garner (Distinguished Research Professor of Law at Southern Methodist University) and Jack Lynch (Distinguished Professor of English at Rutgers University), Hardly Harmless Drudgery (May – July 2024) traces the history of English-language lexicography from its origins to its digital present in 100 objects, from early printed books to CD-ROMs. Dictionaries and manuscripts, mostly from Garner’s collection, will be on show including items from Johnson, Noah Webster, and the Oxford English Dictionary, as well as portraits, advertisements, lexicographic ephemera, and letters. An accompanying monograph from Godine will be published in March 2024.