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The History of the Arion Press

San Francisco has a long tradition of fine printing and is still acknowledged to be the main center of fine printing and book making in the United States. Arion Press owes much to the culture of this city where printers with aesthetic sensibilities have thrived for more than 125 years.

During the Gold Rush, when San Francisco grew from town to city, the number of printers increased to meet the demands of growing businesses and the swelling population of miners. In the 1867, the first notable printer, Edward Bosqui, established his reputation with Charles Warren Stoddard's Poems. Ten years later he published Grapes and Grape Vines of California, a large volume of exquisitely colored lithographs. Charles A. Murdock began printing in San Francisco in 1868. Initially conservative, he became associated with the most adventuresome publications of the time through Gelett Burgess of The Lark and “Purple Cow” fame.

Edwin Grabhon sitting beneath a photograph of John Henry Nash John Henry Nash arrived in San Francisco in 1895 at the age of 24 and launched an ambitious career. He made a name for himself long before he joined into partnership with the brothers DeWitt and Henry Taylor in 1911, as Taylor, Nash & Taylor. Nash went into business for himself in 1916.

While the Taylor brothers, as Taylor & Taylor, were to continue to pursue restrained, handsome typography into the 1960s, Nash's grandiose style was more short-lived. He was enormously successful through the 1920s, doing printing for the large companies in San Francisco and special projects for wealthy patrons, culminating in his edition of Dante's Divine Comedy, 1929. With the Great Depression of the 1930s Nash's fortunes declined, and he retired to Oregon.

The brothers Edwin and Robert Grabhorn came to San Francisco from Indianapolis in 1919 and immediately captivated the community of bibliophiles with their imaginative and colorful books and ephemeral printing. The brothers later claimed to have been “the best students of Bruce Rogers”, another Indianan a generation older, who is considered the greatest book designer America has produced.

Rogers practiced “allusive typography”, alluding to the period and style of the contents of a book through his choice of type, decoration, and arrangement of the pages. The Grabhorns were indeed influenced by Rogers, but their enormously varied output can only be attributed to their keen sense of design and mastery of historic and contemporary modes of typographic expression.

Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, published by Random House in 1930, is generally considered the Grabhorns' masterpiece, handset in the Newstyle type of Frederic Goudy, the most skillful and prolific American type designer, whose fonts the Grabhorns favored and put to best use. The Grabhorn brothers had the most distinguished press in California, where they reigned supreme for over forty years.

Bob Grabhorn making up a page of type at Grabhorn-Hoyem, 1966. At the end of 1965 the Grabhorn Press closed. Edwin was then 76 and Robert 65. The following year the younger brother joined in partnership with a much younger man, Andrew Hoyem, who had worked at the Grabhorn Press during 1964. Hoyem had begun printing in 1961 in partnership with Dave Haselwood at the Auerhahn Press, located around the corner from the Grabhorn Press. Auerhahn Press did small printing jobs in order to make the money needed to publish avante-garde literature, mainly poets identified with the Beat Generation.

A year and a half before the Grabhorn-Hoyem partnership was established, the Auerhahn Press had been ended, with Hoyem carrying on the printing business. Robert Grabhorn brought to the new enterprise much of the printing equipment and type collection of the Grabhorn Press, including types that had been acquired from John Henry Nash when he retired. Shortly before the death of Robert Grabhorn in 1973, the balance of the Grabhorn equipment was purchased from the widow of Edwin Grabhorn, consolidating one of the most important collections of type, which Arion Press uses to this day.

In 1974, Andrew Hoyem renamed the company Arion Press (after the legendary Greek poet who was saved from the sea by a dolphin) and started on a new series of limited-edition books that began to be published in 1975. Two years later, with the financial backing of five friends, he and his staff commenced handsetting Herman Melville's Moby-Dick and printing a folio edition on handmade paper.

During the 1980s, Arion Press branched into artist books, which incorporated original prints from the collaboration between Andrew Hoyem and prominent artists, including Jim Dine, Jasper Johns, and Robert Motherwell. In the 2000s, the list of artists has grown, and younger contemporary artists have contributed to the series. Arion editions are collected by individuals, museums, and libraries, including the British Library, Huntington Library, Brown University, University of Alberta, Ohio State University, Stanford University, Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library, New York Public Library, Dartmouth College, Brigham Young University, University of Arizona, and University of California. The books and prints have been the subject of many exhibitions and were featured in the 1995 “A Century of Artists Books” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.

The Arion Press remains small, employing about twelve people as printers, bookbinders, editors, and in other publishing roles. Part of the team are the highly skilled and long-experienced typesetters of Mackenzie & Harris, the oldest and largest surviving typefoundry in America, which was bought in 1989. M & H Type, as that division is also known, supplies lead-alloy type to printers and schools around the country and provides typographic services in computer-generated composition as well.

Arion Press is devoted to excellence in the crafts of bookmaking and to imaginative presentation of worthy literary texts and visual art.

The San Francisco locations of the press have been:
1334 Franklin Street (1961-1965)
566 Commercial Street (1965-1985)
460 Bryant Street (1985-2001)
1802 Hays Street, The Presidio (2001- )

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