Monday, August 11, 2014

Celebrating 50 Years Spotlight: Grabhorn Collection

While Edwin Grabhorn was still printing in Indiana under the press name The Studio Press, he began using a pressmark featuring a horn and dolphin which was designed by Mark Harvey Liddell. It wasn’t until 1924—several years after the move to San Francisco and after Robert had joined Edwin in the venture--that they began referring to themselves as The Grabhorn Press. The Grabhorn Press used many different pressmarks over the years and various versions of the horn and dolphin theme--this featured image is just one example. It is from The Discovery of Florida printed in 1946 for The Book Club of California with type set by Robert and Jane Grabhorn, press work by Edwin Grabhorn and Sherwood Grover, and initials and decorations by Malette Dean. This book is part of the Robert Grabhorn Collection on the History of Printing and the Development of the Book on the 6th floor of the Main Library.

 50 years of special collections

Saturday, August 2, 2014

And to Think I Saw it on Gough Street

House number, 194 Gough Street

The email arrived at 3:30pm on Thursday afternoon: "Go see this today!" The message included a link to a short piece from the San Francisco Chronicle and a video. The article announced an open house at 194 Gough Street in Hayes Valley, the flat where Reuben Lucius Goldberg (1883-1970), aka Rube Goldberg--contraption king, Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist (creator of comic strip characters Bobo Baxter, Boob McNutt, Mike and Ike, Professor Butts, and Lala Palooza), author of such notable works as Foolish Questions, How to Remove Cotton from a Bottle of Aspirin, The Rube Goldberg Plan for the Post-War World, and sometime sewer worker--once hung his hat while visiting his father Max in the city.

Reuben Lucius Goldberg was born in San Francisco on July 4, 1883 to Max and Hannah Goldberg. He was one of three boys and a girl. Rube graduated from Lowell High School in 1900, and the University of California, Berkeley in 1904 with a degree in Mining and Engineering (he cartooned for the Pelican while a student there). After graduation he was hired by Thomas P. Woodward, the Engineer for the City of San Francisco, where he "mapped sewer pipes and water mains." (Peter C. Marzio, Rube Goldberg: His Life and Work). He was a cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle and The Bulletin, eventually leaving San Francisco for New York and success as one of America's greatest humorists.

But Rube always remembered his roots. According to the San Francisco Call, Rube purchased a lot on the southeast corner of Oak and Gough Streets from Johanna F. Lutz, sometime around November 19, 1910. Architect Bernard J. Joseph designed the building with shop space on the ground level, and two flats on the second floor. It was completed in 1911, and subsequently named the R.L. Goldberg Building.
Entry 6053, Building Contract for R.L. Goldberg

It is described by the San Francisco Planning Department as "A two part commercial block with a glass base and upper story with angled pilasters and doubled brackets supporting the simple cornice; the parapet above the bays rises in gentle peaks. The windows between the bays have handsome molded surrounds with peaked keystone ornament. This building was owned by the celebrated cartoonist and "inventor" Rube Goldberg as income property." The building style is described as "Eclectic."

R.L. Goldberg Building, 182-198 Gough Street

Picture Snapping Machine, Inventions! (1996)
With less than an hour and a half  before closing, I grabbed my picture snapping machine and a cartoon enthusiast/San Francisco History Center colleague and the two of us ran down the street and up the stairs to 194 Gough Street, where we met Rube's granddaughter Jennifer George, along with Jacqui Naylor, resident for the last twenty-five years of Rube's old flat. Exploration was encouraged: we rambled through the front rooms, with their original wavy glass windows and remnants of Goldberg-era wallpaper. We were told that Rube drew his cartoons in the corner front room, where the light was just right. We wandered down the hallway with its original lighting fixtures and front door opener (a Goldberg-esque contraption itself), the bathroom with wonderful free-standing bathtub, and finally the kitchen, from where we spied the old tin roof.

Up the stairs to Rube Goldberg's flat
Rube Goldberg era wallpaper in a front room

The front room where Rube drew his cartoons

Original hallway light fixture
How to open the front door from the top of the stairs

Our chance to take a peek at possibly the last residence in San Francisco connected with the great Rube Goldberg was over in an hour. We were grateful to see many of its original fixtures still intact and preserved, and to learn some of its history from family and friends. Here now, but for how long?

Detail, The Art of Rube Goldberg (2013)

For historical information about the city's buildings, readers can start with "How to Research a San Francisco Building," and visit the San Francisco History Center, especially for in-depth research. The department is also the City Archives for the City and County of San Francisco, and includes the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection, The collection has at least two photos of Rube Goldberg, which may be viewed in the digital photo collection.

The Schmulowitz Collection of  Wit & Humor holds a number of books by and about the marvelous Rube Goldberg. All materials are accessible through our online catalog.

The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley houses Rube Goldberg's papers.

In addition, Rube's granddaughter Jennifer George has published The Art of Rube Goldberg: (A) Inventive (B) Cartoon (C) Genius (2013).

Rube Goldberg, [1914]

Thanks to Jennifer George, Jacqui Naylor, and Beverly Upton.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Letterforms: From Presidents to Pizza Boxes (in 30 Years)

Join us Wednesday, June 25, at 6:00pm, in the Latino-Hispanic Community Meeting Room, Main Library, for an illustrated talk by John Stevens, an internationally acclaimed master calligrapher, designer of logotypes and illustrator of expressive letterforms. He is the author of a recent monograph about his art and philosophy, Scribe: Artist of the Written Word (2013).

A transplanted New Yorker, John lives, works, and teaches in North Carolina. San Francisco Public Library holds many examples of Stevens' original calligraphy in the Harrison Collection of Calligraphy and Lettering. A sampling of his commercial work can be seen on his website:

Sponsored by the Book Arts and Special Collections Center and the Friends of Calligraphy.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

BookWorks 2014

Event detail
In celebration of the extraordinary books designed, printed and assembled by book artists across the country, the Pacific Center for the Book Arts (PCBA) and the San Francisco Public Library are pleased to announce the BookWorks 2014: The Fifteenth Triennial Members' Exhibition.
BookWorks will be held in the Skylight Gallery of the San Francisco Public Library, Sixth Floor, Civic Center. The exhibition runs from June 21 through September 6, 2014, with an opening reception from 2:00 pm until 4:00 pm, on June 21, 2014.

This exhibition includes works by bookbinders, calligraphers, collagists, conservators, illustrators, inkers, letterers, librarians, papermakers, photographers, printers, sign painters, stone carvers, type designers, typographers, wine makers, writers, and zinesters, in the form of broadsides, ephemera, collage and of course, books.

"Since 1983, I’ve been in most PCBA exhibitions; I am always astonished at the quality and freshness of the work from our members. After some 40 years of designing and making books,
I am thrilled by the incredible response of our book arts community to the call for entries,” discloses Kathleen Burch, PCBA Members' Show Chairperson and Co-Founder of San Francisco Center for the Book. “When people come to view the show, they’ll see everything from A to Z – bicycles and recycling, as well as dictionaries from the inside out.”

The Pacific Center for the Book Arts was formed in 1978 by a group of San Francisco Bay Area book artists, workers, and teachers to help support the new directions of their various disciplines, and to provide a vehicle and a focus for education, experimentation and communication in and among their fields. Information about PCBA can be found at

The Members Show – open to all members – has been the anchor of the PCBA since the early eighties. The San Francisco Public Library has been the customary host. This public exhibition is sponsored by the Book Arts & Special Collections Center of the San Francisco Public Library. All events at the San Francisco Public Library are free and open to the public.

Related Programs
Gallery Talks
Four Saturdays: July 12 & 26; August 9 & 23 at 2pm, Skylight Gallery


Friday, June 6, 2014

It Came From the (Photo) Morgue!: Happy National Doughnut Day

November 8, 1939
Alvin Shipwreck Kelly
As one of a number of publicity stunts thought up by the doughnut industry, Alvin does a headstand on a long board from the 54th floor of a New York skyscraper, and dunks 13 doughnuts.
P379 Kelly,-ey, A

The San Francisco Public Library owns the photo morgue of the San Francisco News-Call Bulletin, a daily newspaper that covered the time period from the 1920s to 1965. Much of the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection comes from the San Francisco News-Call Bulletin Photo Morgue. However, the morgue also includes statewide, national, and international subjects and people that have not been digitized or cataloged. When researchers order scans from the San Francisco News-Call Bulletin Photo Morgue,selections are cataloged and added to the online database.

Looking for a historical photograph of San Francisco? Try our online database first. Not there? Come visit us at the Photo Desk of the San Francisco History Center, located on the sixth floor at the Main Library. The Photo Desk hours are Tuesdays and Thursdays 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays 10 a.m. to noon, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. You may also request photographs from the San Francisco News-Call Bulletin Photo Morgue.