Remembering Books Not In Libraries

A few years ago, during a work visit in Athens, Amie and I made a last-minute decision to book a flight to Istanbul. We had both long wanted to visit, the flight was inexpensive, and we had a few days to spare. A primary impetus for the visit was to experience this museum. My memory of Istanbul is mainly my memory of the museum. And it is one of my strongest travel memories in a life full of travel. Reading about this “club” I realized there are more shrines for bibliophiles than I had imagined:

The Grolier Club: Celebrating the Art & History of the Book Since 1884

Founded in 1884, the Grolier Club is America’s oldest and largest society for bibliophiles and enthusiasts in the graphic arts. Named for Jean Grolier (1489 or 90-1565), the Renaissance collector renowned for sharing his library with friends, the Club’s objective is to promote “the study, collecting, and appreciation of books and works on paper.” Through the concerted efforts of an international network of over eight hundred men and women—book and print collectors, antiquarian book dealers, librarians, designers, fine printers, binders, and other artisans—the Grolier Club pursues this mission through its library, its public exhibitions and lectures, and its long and distinguished series of publications.

The story of America can be told through the story of its periodicals. Photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty

And the only reason it came to my attention was thanks to Nathan Heller, whose subject likens magazines over earlier centuries to the social media of today in his cultural comment essay What Are Magazines Good For? Tickets to New York are inexpensive, which makes a visit tempting for this one reason, but it will have to wait:

…“The best way to think about magazines is as the analog Internet—they’d foster communities of people, just like on social networks,” Steven Lomazow, a seventy-three-year-old New Jersey neurologist who created the exhibition from his personal collection of more than eighty-three thousand magazine issues, said the other day. He was wearing a shaggy charcoal fleece and a surgical mask that fluttered in and out beneath his glasses as he spoke. He’d become interested in magazines as a student, in the early seventies, when he’d prowl Chicago bookshops for medical books. “One day, I walked into a store and there was the first issue of Life magazine and, next to it, the first issue, supposedly, of Look,” he remembered. “It said, Volume 1, No. 2. I said, ‘What happened to Volume 1, No. 1?’ The guy goes, ‘We don’t know.’ ” Lomazow found this irresistible. His hunt for the first Look became a hunt for other firsts, and before he knew it he had magazines reaching back to 1731 and forward to Dave Eggers’s McSweeney’s and Oprah’s O. “I’m the only crazy generalist now, the one who collects everything,” Lomazow said. “It is an incredible way to learn about history.”

The Grolier is a club for bibliophiles, but magazine nuts are admitted if their obsession reaches sufficiently crazed levels. (The home Lomazow shares with his wife and collaborator in collection, Suze Bienaimee, teems intimidatingly, some might say alarmingly, with bound volumes.) Lomazow strode over to one of eleven glass cases displaying his magazines, moving like a man whose number has been called at a busy deli counter. In winnowing down his collection to about two hundred issues for display—the show, in the exhibition gallery of the Grolier’s clubhouse, is open to the public by appointment—he focussed on those of acute historical importance. “Here’s a magazine from 1774, The Royal American Magazine, which was published by Isaiah Thomas,” he said, pointing. “Its illustrator at the time was a fairly unknown engraver by the name of Paul Revere.” Many of Lomazow’s most prized magazines are bound in their original state; a copy of The Royal American wore a tattered, pale-blue cover. Usually, such covers were regarded as wrappers—people tore them off when they got loose or when several issues were bound in volumes—so finding an eighteenth-century periodical with the cover intact is rare…

Read the whole essay here.

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