National Register of Historic Places in San Francisco

National Register National Register #97000349: Grabhorn Press Building in San Francisco
5 February 2009
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National Register #97000349
Grabhorn Press Building
1335 Sutter Street Between Van Ness and Franklin

The Grabhorn brothers, Edwin and Robert, established their San Francisco press in 1919 or 1920 and were soon printing some of the finest books in America. The Grabhorns "were ranked not only as the finest and most imaginative printers of California, but among the truly great printers of their time" (James D. Hart, Fine Printing in California, Tamalpais Press, 1960).

The brothers assembled an unmatched collection of American type still used by Arion Press, the descendent of Grabhorn Press.

The period of significance is 1942-1965, from the time the Grabhorn family purchased the building and moved their business into it until the Press was disbanded after the death of Edwin Grabhorn.

Today, the Grabhorn Institute is located in the Presidio of San Francisco. According to Wikipedia, "the Grabhorn Institute is a nonprofit organization formed in October 2000 for the purpose of preserving and continuing the use of one of the last integrated type foundry, letterpress printing, and bookbinding facilities in the fine press tradition, and operating it as a living museum and educational and cultural center."

Each Grabhorn edition is a unique product. The paper is heavy, textured, and usually interestingly edged. It is inked nearly through rather than simply on the surface. Margins and spacing are generous. Ink may be black, or red, or some other color, sometimes with initial letters of a contrasting color.

The type face is chosen to suit the content; often the type has a flavor of calligraphy or very early hand printing. The title page is especially beautiful, worthy of solo framing were it not an integral part of a typographical masterpiece. If the work is bound - some Grabhorn items were single pages for private orders - the binding also reflects the content, the cloths or boards are special, and the spine is often leather or a textured cloth, with the title printed separately and glued on.

Excerpted from the NRHP nomination dated 14 March 1997.

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