New York City is home to the U.S. publishing industry and numerous outstanding libraries and collections: Manhattan’s New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn’s Central Public Library, the Morgan Library & Museum, and Poets House, for example. But among the most appealing places for bibliophiles is one you’ve probably never heard of.
Although it’s been around since 1884, the Grolier Club (47 E. 60th St.) flies somewhat under the radar. It gets its name not from a wealthy Gilded Age business titan but from a French bibliophile of the Renaissance: At a time when books were rare and expensive commodities, Jean Grolier de Servières shared his books with friends. The tradition has continued: Despite the “Club” in its name, you don’t have to be a member to visit Grolier and enjoy its celebration of books and other works on paper, plus its free, don’t-miss exhibits—one of which is coming soon.
From January 12 through April 16, the Grolier Club is hosting an exhibit featuring one of the best-known characters in English language fiction. Hint: He’s British, clever, and gets into all sorts of adventures. No, not Harry Potter—Sherlock Holmes, who has been around for more than a century before Harry made his debut. This special exhibit features 221 objects associated with the sleuth.
Why 221? As any Holmesian will know, it’s a nod to his London address, 221B Baker St. (It’s elementary.) Among the rare items to be displayed in Sherlock Holmes in 221 Objects are short story manuscripts by Arthur Conan Doyle, from 1903’s Return of Sherlock Holmes, including “The Adventure of the Dancing Men.” Also on view: letters from Doyle to friends, artwork by illustrators of Holmes’s adventures, and a handwritten speech in which Doyle explains his reason for killing Holmes. All objects are from the collection of a former Apple exec Glen S. Miranker. He’s been an avid collector of things Sherlockian for more than four decades and a Baker Street Irregular (BSI) for 30 years. (BSI is a scholarly society devoted to Holmes since 1934.)
Not a Holmes fan? The Grolier Club—the oldest bibliophilic club in the United States—offers numerous exhibitions throughout the year; past exhibits include early photo books, notable private libraries (such as The Book Room: Georgia O’Keeffe’s Library in Abiquiu), and modern limited-edition presses, such as Arion Press in San Francisco. Because of COVID, the number of visitors allowed in exhibits is limited; you need to make a reservation via Eventbrite. The Club also publishes titles about books, some 400 over the past century, and offers a public lecture series.
The Club’s heart is its 100,000-volume library of books about books, focusing on typography, graphic arts, bookbinding, calligraphy, bibliomania, and even ex libris (bookplates). Books cannot be checked out, but researchers and scholars can explore its contents in person once their request for an appointment is approved.
Despite its tony address, from the start the Grolier Club has aimed to serve the general public, as well as its members. (Currently, private club members number almost 800, among them rare and antiquarian book dealers, librarians, and printers.) But while the Grolier welcomes the public for exhibits and lectures, you need to be nominated to become a member. So serious but amateur book lovers can take solace in comedian Groucho Marx’s famous remark: “I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.”
Sherlock Holmes in 221 Objects runs January 21 through April 16, 2022. The exhibition gallery is open Mon.–Sat., 10 a.m.–5 p.m. You can also enjoy Grolier events online via Vimeo.
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