Exhibit | February 14, 2012

Ray Safford, Rare Bookman at the Grolier Club

The exhibition “Ray Safford, Rare Bookman,” at the Grolier Club second floor gallery, offers a look into the storied New York firm of Charles Scribner's Sons and the literary, publishing, and rare-book worlds in turn-of-the-century New York. Ray Safford was a consummate rare bookman and book collector, whose entire career and life revolved around books and Scribner's.

Over more than four decades, Ray Safford's work in Scribner's retail business gave him unusual connections with people ranging from author Joseph Conrad and illustrator Arthur Burdett Frost to capitalist Henry Clay Frick and publisher Frank Nelson Doubleday. Interesting or unusual items in his personal collection lead us to other luminaries of his day—Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Lewis Carroll.

The exhibit presents letters, manuscripts, bookplates, photographs, inscribed books, and books with drawings added to them. Highlights include a letter to Safford from Arthur Burdett Frost (the illustrator of two Lewis Carroll books, but best known as the illustrator of Uncle Remus) describing his difficulties with Carroll (“the fussiest little man I ever met”); a pencil drawing of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby by Frost in a copy of Uncle Remus; a Mark Twain letter to his publisher James Osgood encouraging publication of a eulogy Twain found, describing it as “the finest thing American lips have uttered, except Mr. Lincoln's Gettysburg speech”; a typescript of an unpublished Kipling poem with Safford's notation about Kipling's wish that the poem never be published; and May Safford's charming story of their 1923 visit in England with the Conrads.

Ray Safford joined Scribner's in the mid-1880s when the business was on Broadway, and became life-long close friends with two other young men there—Frank Nelson Doubleday, later the famous publisher, and Edward W. Bok, later the noted editor and author. Safford stayed with Scribner's and by 1912 was the firm's rare bookman and in charge of the retail operation. Safford knew Scribner authors and illustrators including Eugene Field, Maxfield Parrish, Henry van Dyke, Oliver Herford, and Howard Pyle, all represented in the exhibit by letters or inscribed books. Through Doubleday and Bok he had contact with people such as Joseph Conrad and Rudyard Kipling. Ray Safford retired in 1928, from Scribner's final home, 597 Fifth Avenue.

A high point of Ray Safford's bookselling career occurred in 1903 when he sold a magnificent copy of a First Folio Shakespeare (now at the Huntington Library) for the then-enormous sum of $12,500. The buyer was an intriguing individual, Emilie B. Grigsby, a stunning beauty with exquisite taste in fine objects, the controversial convent-educated daughter of a Cincinnati madam, and the “ward” (mistress) of traction magnate Charles Tyson Yerkes. “Miss G.” proved quite capable of playing in the men's world of rare books. In the exhibit are a small group of items related to the sale and Miss Grigsby's contact with Grolier founder William Loring Andrews, who inscribed books and transcribed poems for Miss Grigsby (probably at the request of Scribner's). These inscriptions later caused Andrews considerable embarrassment. Scribner's bought all of the Andrews-inscribed items at Grigsby's 1912 auction and the two poems Andrews transcribed for Miss Grigsby are in the exhibit, having survived in Ray Safford's papers.

A catalogue accompanies the exhibition, and includes the full texts of the story of the Saffords' visit with the Conrads; the Mark Twain letter to James Osgood with part of the eulogy referred to in the letter; the A. B. Frost letter to Safford with Frost's comments about Lewis Carroll—all three of these texts are believed to be previously unpublished,—and information about Emilie Grigsby, her purchase of the First Folio Shakespeare, as well as the connection with William Loring Andrews.

LOCATION AND TIMES: “Ray Safford, Rare Bookman” will be on exhibit at the Grolier Club of New York, 47 East 60th Street, from February 16 through April 13, 2012. Gallery hours are Monday through Saturday, 10am to 5pm. Open to the public free of charge.

February 22-April 28, 2012. “Torn in Two: The 150th Anniversary of the Civil War.”
Curated by Ronald E. Grim. (Ground Floor Gallery.)
April 18-June 1, 2012. “Through a Papermaker’s Eye: Artists’ Books from the Collection of Susan Gosin.” (Second Floor Gallery.)
May 15-July 28, 2012. “Aaron Burr Returns to New York: an Exhibit of Burr and His Contemporaries.” (Ground Floor Gallery.)