Horn’s and Grabhorns

Horn’s and Grabhorns

The lead story in this issue of Horn’s is by E. I. Edwards, concerning his Grabhorn collection. For those not familiar with Grabhorns, they are books published by the Grabhorn Press of San Francisco. The Grabhorn Press was a small-run printer not known for publishing original works, but for the fine quality of their books. It is for such things as bindings, type styles, and other appearance issues that Grabhorns are desired. They were meant to be collected from the day they were printed.

The press was established by the Grabhorn brothers, Edwin and Robert, in 1920 after emigrating to California from Indiana. It continued to operate until 1965 when the brothers, now advanced in age, closed it down. Younger brother Robert later went into partnership with Andrew Hoyem, creating the Hoyem-Grabhorn imprint. Renamed Arion Press after Robert died in 1973, this company exists to this day, and they have formed the Grabhorn Institute, located in the Presidio of San Francisco, to preserve a part of the history of printing.

Edwards’ love for Grabhorns is passionate. And it leads him to express, in no uncertain terms, the feeling that “collectors,” as opposed to “readers,” have for their books. While Edwards says he does actually read his Grabhorns, reading them is an irrelevancy. “ I am not required to read my Grabhorns in order to enjoy them,” he exclaims. “Bless you-no. I can just look at them, or even think of them, and enjoy them in a measure far beyond the utmost concept of those who so crudely suppose one must read every book he acquires in order to justify its acquisition. To one who really understands and loves good books, no supposition is more ridiculous, more asinine, more imbecile, more erroneous.”

Well I guess this separates people who like books from those who prefer more technologically advanced forms of communication, like television. Can you imagine anyone sitting there looking at his television with the power turned off? Could you imagine someone saying that the idea that you must be able to see the programs to appreciate a television set is ridiculous, asinine, and imbecile? Now I know you’re thinking that with the level of programming these days, a blank screen might be an improvement, but that would be an example of “destructive” criticism, and like Horn’s, we will not indulge in this behavior.

After many paragraphs singing the praises of Grabhorns, Edwards says that the one he considers most important is The Santa Fe Trail to California by H.M.T. Powell. Only 300 copies were printed. “It’s worth $200 of any man’s cash – provided he can find it (book or cash, that is).” Was Edwards right? I have resources not available to Edwards plus hindsight. The answer is yes and no.

I checked the Americana Exchange Database (ÆD) and found 18 entries, 17 of which are either priced dealer catalogues or auction records. They run from 1937 to 1997. Right there in 1947, while Edwards was saying the book was easily worth $200, Edward Eberstadt was offering a copy for $125. That very copy would end up in the Streeter sale twenty-one years later and still bring only $250. Edwards was ahead of his time.